Today is World Mental Health or Blue Day. October is also Beyond Blue’s Anxiety and Depression Awareness Month.
Depression and anxiety awareness is very important to me. I have been suffering depression for much of my life and I was first diagnosed with depression by my family doctor when I was 5. A particular aspect of depression that I believe really needs some time in the spotlight is self-injury or self-harm.
Self-Injury is a badly misunderstood and stigmatised condition. There are many incorrect and potentially harmful beliefs about self-injury that pervade the media, society and even the doctors and nurses who treat those who suffer from it. Self-harm is not an attention seeking activity that whiny ’emo’ teenagers indulge in. Self-injury is seen across all ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds.
There are a number of articles which cover the various reasons why people self-harm so instead of rehashing all the clinical data I will give you my personal story.
My self-harm started when I was a child. I couldn’t say when it started but it was common throughout my childhood to soothe my extremes of emotion by hitting or biting myself. The point where it became a problem was when I was 13, the first time took a razor blade and made a long, shallow cut down my arm. From that point on cutting became an irresistible urge. I lear
ned that when I got into a downward spiral, my brain wouldn’t shut up and I was panicking, the one thing that could bring silence and calm back to my world was to cut myself.
Learning to stop self-harming was difficult. One day when I was 17 I cut way too deep and scared the crap out myself. It caused me to confide in my family and friends and with their support and three thick scars on my thigh to remind me never to do it again I managed to stop.
The stereotypes and misunderstanding surrounding those who self-injure is harmful. It prevents people from getting help. People who are already ashamed and scared who have to face telling their loved ones and medical professional who may then react with scorn or disgust.
So I offer myself as a counter to the stereotype. Is this who you see when you think of someone who cuts themselves?
If you take one thing from this post I hope it is compassion for those around you who are hurting and awareness that self-injury exists, is a real medical condition and needs treatment like any other aspect of depression.
I had a friend at high school who cut herself quite badly. At the time it did seem like an attention getter because she came to school and showed me her arm. I figured, even if it was for attention, she needed it, so I just hugged her and tried to show that I cared that she was hurting.
I realised later the reason for cutting, when I was tempted to do it myself. I thought the pain would be more bearable if it was on the outside instead of the inside…
I too hope that people will show compassion and provide help to those who need it.
Thanks for your post!
The stigma can be worse for those who self-harm but not by cutting. Being told “no, that doesn’t count” is worse than humiliating, especially given the courage required to speak up in the first place.
Well done for being able to stop. It’s not as easy as it sounds but it is possible.
Thank you for sharing such a personal issue. I too hope that others who suffer from similar forms of depression can seek – and find – the help that they need.
And no, this is not who I see when I think of people who cut themselves.