De-stigmatising self-harm and a new website resource for young people
I’m proud today to be promoting the official launch of a project coordinated and directed by a good friend of mine:
www.selfharm.co.uk is a lottery-funded resource for young people and their families affected by self-harm and self-injury providing comprehensive information, support and a safe space to express feelings and stories surrounding self-harm issues. The project takes a firm pro-recovery approach while still allowing young people to be honest about the realities of their experiences of self-harm.
We’re talking about a HUGE number of young people here, with as many as 25% of girl and 12% of boys in the UK said to self-harm before the age of 14 – considered the highest recorded rates in Europe. As parents this makes knowing about self-harm seriously important. And yet, despite the high prevalence, self-harm remains something that many people find difficult to talk about, shrouded in stigma and secrecy.
Self-harm is classed as causing deliberate harm to your body, including cutting, which is what most people think of when they think of self-harm, but also burning, deliberately bruising, hair pulling, as well as over/under eating, binge drinking and drug use. Often it can stem from feelings of anger, depression or anxiety, or from feelings of low self-esteem as a form of self-punishment – an inner, overwhelming feeling that manifests as a physical need to hurt to yourself and that may provide a temporary release from those feelings. You may not even know why you do it. It’s not about attention, in fact the vast majority of people that self-harm do so in absolute secrecy, and although sometimes associated with mental health problems, on its own is not necessarily an indication of mental illness, but one of emotional distress.
For some self-harmers, this may be a relatively short episode that passes, but the danger is, that without proper support, that behaviours like this can spiral into a destructive and pervasive part of somebody’s life that may continue well into adulthood.
It’s an issue very close to my heart, not because I myself have self-harmed, but because SO many of the people closest to me HAVE. I can relate to those feelings of low self-worth, of not being good enough, or feeling like I was failing in some way, that many people who self-harm talk about – I’m sure many, many of us can relate in that sense.
When I mentioned I was writing this blog post on Twitter last night, I was amazed how many people got in touch to offer stories, or just to put their hands up in private to say “yes, that’s me. I self-harmed, or did do”. One woman talked very eloquently and matter-of-factly about her self-harm as something that only happens occasionally, deliberately hitting or bruising herself when she’s tired or very stressed, as a way of dealing with a sense of intense self-hate that arises when things go wrong, or as a way of giving herself a moment of release, helping her feel like she can breathe again when the pressure gets too much. She doesn’t view it as a serious problem and talks of it as something within her control, a tool to make herself feel better.
For others, more serious self-harm became something that spiralled into a problem that became far more dangerous – eating disorders and cutting that needed professional involvement. Getting better happened once they were treated with some dignity and their self-harm recognised and respected as part of how they coped – changing those coping mechanisms then became a positive, self-realised process, facilitated by support as opposed to ‘treatment’ that left them feeling judged.
The message of Rachel’s interview, and of the selfharm.co.uk is clear and strong. If you self-harm you are NOT alone, changing behaviours is always possible, and support and advice is available.
If you are or know a young person affected by self-harm, or you are a parent or teacher worried about young people in your care, or an adult for whom self-harm is or has been an issue, then please have a look at the website and share details of it with your networks.
Many thanks, and please feel free to leave comments anonymously if you’ like to share your experiences here.
(images courtesy of www.selfharm.co.uk)