Trigger Warning: This post is centered around experiences of and advocacy toward self-harm. Please proceed with caution, and empathy.
Welcome to Therapy Thursday! In collaboration with Mental Health Chat, an open access mental health community, each week
Last week I participated in a mental health conversation at Mental Health Chat @MHChat, an open access mental health community, with experts by experience, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, mental health advocates, and others and created this summary of the discussion to share with you. I hope you will also tune in and join the next @MHChat conversation about domestic violence!
Self-harm is such a sensitive subject. What a mind-blowing discussion.
We talked about possible causes for people to resort to self-harm, its impact on relationships, alternate coping mechanisms, support, surrounding stigmas and how to eliminate them to allow more healthy dialogue.
People were so forthcoming with their views and experiences, giving reassurance and showing compassion on such a misrepresented mental ill health. Here’s the dialogue:
betty blakey @anneghemwall
@MHChat self harm is an expression of distress- often language can’t portray. it can be a means of communication with self and the world #mhchat 3:08 PM – 3 Feb 2016
Davia Roberts @RedefineEnough
A2: YES!!! It say… I’m experiencing so much & I need to control something, I need to FEEL something. #MHChat https://twitter.com/MHChat/status/694975736621449219 …
3:13 PM – 3 Feb 2016
- It’s often physical, because some find that focusing on physical pain is easier to handle, and the results are tangible. Self-harm provides a release. Other forms are more mental strains:
- Someone practicing self-harm needs to be listened to, because they are indeed communicating. That message could be the SOS friends and family are looking for:
@MHChat: “Self-harm makes the invisible visible and it is a way of telling the untellable and an effort to cope and go on with living.”
- Anyone can be in a state of high emotional stress or traumatized; anyone can find themselves engaging in self-harm to deal with that stress.
- The most vulnerable groups in society are more prone to self-harm: This may include children from broken homes or abusive/negligent, adverse backgrounds, unemployed young adults, adults with learning disabilities, low-income, isolated groups, veterans, people with PTSD…
- Self-harm, as with other mental ill health, is often not approached with empathy or respect. Instead, people may label the person as extreme, histrionic, melodramatic, etc. Mental health professionals as well as family and friends must take care not to shame the individual practicing self-harm, or be dismissive, treating the situation as simply attention seeking or as rehearsal for suicide.
- Self-harm relates to a person’s self-narrative and sense of identity.
- The experience of self-harm impacts not only the individual experiencing it, but also their families, loved ones, and significant others: They may recoil in shock, feel helpless and fearful for that person’s welfare, or express frustration with the individual for not directly expressing their emotions. Unfortunately, receiving negative responses may reinforce using self-harm as a coping mechanism.
- Self-harm behaviors can be addicting and even when the person desires to stop it can be difficult. The behavior itself is a symptom pointing to underlying, deep rooted issues. Also, self-harming persons can go through withdrawal, or relapse after stressful periods. They may need to gradually stop self-harm through safer alternatives, like popping bands, taking a cold shower, or redirect themselves to self-nurture.
- There’s still misunderstanding and social stigmas attached to self-harm, within the mental health field, in education, and in our communities at large.
How do we raise greater awareness of self-harm and its meaning and its significance? How do we garner support for individuals who self-harm and their community?
1. Empathize: More than anything, people who practice self-harm need to be treated with dignity and kindness instead of being discounted. Listen receptively to people who have lived the experience. Don’t fail to see the person and pain behind that injury!
2. Support: Remember that it really does take a village: For a parent or caretaker of a young person who self-harms, it can be difficult to be objective. Families and loved ones really need their own support systems and resources, such as rehabilitation efforts and group therapy approaches. Tangible support is VITAL.
3. Educate: Debunk the myths, mysteries and stigmas through open dialogues. Reducing the fear reduces the stigma. Join open conversations about metal health.
Watch and share films like “Ida’s Diary” or “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”.
4. Provide alternatives: Help people who self-harm learn healthy ways to express and deal with painful emotions. Help them gain self-compassion.
Be the safety net you wish for others to land in.
If you are in the U.K. and feeling low and need to talk to someone, please contact @samaritans at 0116123.
If you are in the U.S. and are feeling low and need to talk to someone, please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK
Also see: childline.org.uk/Explore/Self-harm or call Childline: 0800 1111
What coping methods do you use to deal with emotional distress? Want to raise awareness, promote good practice, share your views or experiences, celebrate your recovery, or anything else about mental health? Join & Share your views, experiences, and strategies with @MHChat!
You, too, can be an advocate for mental health! Join Mental Health Chat on Twitter, Wednesdays 8 pm GMT / 3 pm EST / 12:00 noon PST!
Chat summary by: Mia Anika @mia_anika_