Don’t worry, the title of this post doesn’t mean I have; it’s simply a themed post today due to it being the 1st of June.
Before I go on to that though, I just wanted to tell you a couple of things first: Today marks 53 days Self Harm Freeeeee!! 😀
It also marks Day 1 SMOKEFREE. I’ve invested in a vape pen instead, so far so good 🙂 getting the nicotine without the nasty stuff in a cigarette. I can also cut down on the mg of nicotine as well until I’m on 0% and just flavoured water! I’m feeling quite confident about it. Anyway, on with the themed post for the month!!
The subject of this post can potentially trigger those vulnerable/susceptible to self-harm urges, please read with caution.
What is self-harm?
- Also known as self-injury
- It is when you hurt yourself, to deal with frustration/upset/anger and other such emotions.
- Types of self-harm can include (but isn’t limited to):
- As well as the above physical ways, self-harm can also include reckless behaviour, putting yourself in dangerous situations or a lack of care for your wellbeing.
- Self-harm is often considered to be a cry for help.
- Cutting yourself
- Poisoning yourself
- Over or under-eating
- Burning your skin
- Inserting objects into your body
- Hitting yourself or walls
- Exercising excessively
- Scratching and hair pulling.
Why do people self-harm?
Self-harm is more common than many people realise, especially among younger people. A survey of people aged 15-16 years carried out in the UK in 2002 estimated that more than 10% of girls and more than 3% of boys had self-harmed in the previous year.
In most cases, people who self-harm do it to help them cope with unbearable and overwhelming emotional issues, caused by problems such as:
- social factors – such as being bullied, having difficulties at work or school, or having difficult relationships with friends or family
- trauma – such as physical or sexual abuse, or the death of a close family member or friend
- mental health conditions – such as depression or borderline personality disorder
These issues can lead to a build-up of intense feelings of anger, hopelessness and self-hatred.
Although some people who self-harm are at a high risk of ending their lives, many people who self-harm do not want to end their lives. In fact, the self-harm may help them cope with emotional distress so they don’t feel the need to kill themselves.
People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame or fear of discovery. For example, they may cover up their skin and avoid discussing the problem.
Therefore, it is often up to close family and friends to notice when somebody is self-harming, and to approach the subject with care and understanding. The signs may include unexplained injuries and signs of depression or low self-esteem.
Someone who is self-harming can seriously hurt themselves, so it is important that they speak to a GP about the underlying issue and request treatment or therapy that is likely to help them.
What are the signs of self-harm?
As it says above, often people who self-harm try to keep it a secret. So it’s often hard to spot. However, there are some things you can look out for:
- unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest
- keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
- signs of depression, such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything
- becoming very withdrawn and not speaking to others
- changes in eating habits or being secretive about eating, and any unusual weight loss or weight gain
- signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they are not good enough for something
- signs they have been pulling out their hair
- signs of misuse of alcohol or drugs
How can you help someone who self-harms?
Knowing someone who is self-harming can be very worrying and distressing. You can often feel at a loss and not know what to do to help them. There is some things that you can do though:
- make time to gently and sympathetically discuss the problem with them and listen to what they say without judging them or being critical
- try to appreciate how difficult they are finding life and show them you understand
- discuss the possibility of seeking professional help
- get medical help if any injuries are serious
It’s really important that you don’t act too strongly or in a negative or critical way, and most of all, don’t get angry. These kinds of reaction are likely to make matters worse, not better.
If they don’t want to discuss the matter with you, perhaps suggest they see their GP or another medical professional about it.
What will happen if someone sees their GP about self-harming?
First of all, they will ask about the feelings and triggers behind the self-harm. They will want to establish the cause and how it makes the person feel afterwards. They may also ask if there is any other conditions underlying, such as depression or eating disorders. This is to see if there is a particular pattern of behaviour.
If there is any link to eating disorders, or drug/alcohol abuse, then it’s likely that the height, weight and blood pressure will be checked too. It is important that the patient is fully open and honest about their self-harming, so that the GP can get a full picture of what is happening and can put them on the right track for help.
Usually after the initial assessment with the GP, they are then referred to further professionals for more assessments on a deeper level.
During the assessment they will ask about:
- Physical health
- Relationships with others and living arrangements
- Methods used to self-harm
- Frequency of self-harm
- Any specific thoughts/events/feelings before
- Any things that the patient may have tried to reduce/stop the self-harm
- Whether the patient feels they will self-harm again
- If the patient knows why they feel they need to
- And if the patient has thoughts of suicide
A care plan of treatment will then be decided based upon the patients’ responses to the above, and in full agreement with the patient. This may be in the form of talking therapies, medications or a combination of the two. Depending on the severity of the situation.
Who will be involved with the care plan?
Usually there’s the following people involved:
- A counsellor, someone who is trained in talking therapies
- A psychiatrist, a medical doctor who has had further training of mental health conditions
- A psychologist, a health professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions by talking (usually CBT)
There may be the involvement of other specialists, depending on the underlying reasons behind the self-harm, eg eating disorders.
What to do to get immediate help for injury or overdose
Some physical injuries may need treating in an accident and emergency (A&E) department, minor injuries unit or walk-in centre. For example, you may need to call 999 for an ambulance if:
- you or somebody else have taken an overdose of drugs, alcohol or prescription medication
- somebody is unconscious
- you or somebody else are in a lot of pain
- you or somebody else are having difficulty breathing
- you or somebody else are losing a lot of blood from a cut or wound
- you or somebody else are in shock after a serious cut or burn
If your injury is not serious, you could be treated at a minor injuries unit (MIU). These healthcare services are run by doctors or nurses to assess and treat minor injuries, such as minor burns and scalds, infected wounds and broken bones.
NHS walk-in centres, where a nurse can treat you without appointment, are also available for minor cuts and bruises.
Now that I’ve given you the facts, I shall give you a brief story of my own experiences with self-harm.
The first time I ever self-harmed was around the age of 16; in the form of superficial cuts to my arms. Nothing too deep, but enough to take the edge off the emotional pain that I felt at the time. I can’t pin point any specific trigger, still to this day I can’t, but I remember feeling so overwhelmed and numb, that it was my way of feeling something, anything.
I can also remember the relief I felt afterwards; and the pain. I tried to cover it up, ashamed of what I’d done and wore long sleeves, or bandages if I couldn’t. I told people I’d sprained my wrist or various other excuses. It took me a long time to admit to anyone what I was doing. In a way, telling someone was an even bigger relief. It freed me of the secrecy and gave me an outlet to talk about the feelings that made me do it in the first place.
Over the years, I’ve still self-harmed on and off. Mostly just cutting, but also scratching, pinching and burning myself with cigarettes or lighters. A lot of the time it’s when I’m at my lowest, in a depressive episode; but it also happens when I’m anxious or upset. My anxiety plays a big part at times, and I’ll often scratch my arms or pinch myself to distract me from the building anxious thoughts. This is generally when I’m not at home and can’t cut. I think it’s getting better, but I take each and every day as it comes. I keep a tally of how many days I go without harming myself, and the longer I go, the prouder I feel.
When I do have a bad day and it happens, I often feel like a failure and really guilty afterwards for doing it. Which doesn’t help, but I can’t help it. I sometimes look at the scars I’ve already got and hate myself for putting them there; then I look at the newest ones and think about how they’ll add to my collection too.
It’s a vicious cycle sometimes, of getting so low that I cut, then feeling so bad about cutting that I end up doing it again as punishment to myself.
The point of me writing this post, is to not only give hope to those that struggle with it, that it does get better, but also to help myself put things into perspective.
It truly does get better and in time the periods between harming yourself do get longer and the self-harm itself gets smaller when it does happen.
I’ve learnt many techniques to distract myself or stop myself causing myself permanent damage, but get the pain that relieves the frustration. Here are some of them:
- An elastic band on my wrist: All I have to do is pull and let go, and the sting as it hits my wrist is often enough to stop me cutting.
- Hold an ice cube tightly in each hand, until either they melt or the feeling of wanting to cut passes, whichever comes first. This method does cause quite intense pain from the cold though, so it’s not something I do often.
- Distracting myself with things like a walk, listening to music, a workout dvd or reading a book. Getting lost in another activity often helps to distract me.
- Texting/calling a friend. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you need an outsiders perspective to make you think about what you’re doing.
- I write; poems, words, stories, anything that comes to mind. Feelings even sometimes. It gives my hands something to do and again, distracts me from the urge to cut.
- If mania is playing a part in the urges (compulsive/reckless behaviour), I try to find something to do that relaxes me. Often it’s in the form of a bath, but this can also have its hazards (i.e razor blades).
- Deep breathing and PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation, a CBT technique), works really well though. Concentrate on every breath in through the nose, and then hold for a couple of seconds, then release slowly through the mouth. Letting all the anxiety, frustration, emotions out with the breath. Repeat as much as necessary, until the feeling passes.
Finding coping strategies, that work the best for you, is a great way of helping yourself. Putting into place ways of making yourself think, is a good thing to do too. Also, if you can’t bring yourself to throw away your blade, freeze it in a block of ice. That way, you physically have to chip away or melt the ice before you can use it. By which point the feeling has usually passed.
The urges to cut are generally quite fleeting with me now, whereas before the thoughts would consume me until I gave in and did it. Like I said, it really can get better, if you want it to. If you want anything enough, you can make it happen. You have the power and strength inside of you.
I hope this post has helped and not triggered. I didn’t post images on purpose, as that would be really thoughtless and irresponsible of me. I have done in past blogs about my own self-harm, but looking back, I don’t think it was wise. Brave, yes, but not the right thing to do. I’ve succumbed to being triggered by images before, so I apologise if that particular post triggered any of my readers.
Right, I will leave it there, but will end with a positive quote:
“Be strong because things will get better; It may be stormy now, but it never rains forever.”