Self Harm by a Protégé Artist
“What have I become? My sweetest friend… Everyone I know goes away in the end”
– ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails
There is always hope. With the way these words are about to run, it would be wise to remember that. So with that in mind, I can begin.
I was 15. Some hair had started to sprout above my lips (below my nose), to bloom on my chest, to grass up my legs. It was night and I was up but I dare not switch on any light to alert the outside world to my noiseless aches. I remember my cheeks being wet, with tears most probably, but my head being clear. I remember sitting on my floor, in a heap, in my boxers (and socks). I remember the heat as I ran a compass point through the skin on my left arm. 4 times, maybe 5? I remember sitting with such attention, waiting for the first hint of the colour red to trace the white lines up and down my arm.
I was 15. I felt… I dunno. I guess I didn’t feel anything. Maybe I wanted to feel something – something that I could translate in my head as real pain.
That is now a memory I continue to live with. What made me do that? I still don’t know. Sure there were many factors involved which could provide logical (albeit clichéd) answers to that very question, but my story is MY story. Across the world there are numerous cases just like this. The plot remains the same, but the details (those factors) vary.
You may like to know that:
- 1 in 10 teenage girls self-harm each year
(Source: ‘Issues’ Volume 136 – www.independence.co.uk)
- Globally, every 3 seconds someone attempts to take his / her own life. Almost one million deaths each year are by suicide. This is higher than the total number of deaths each year from homicide and road accidents combined
(Source: Samaritans – www.samaritans.org)
- 1 in 12 British children deliberately hurt themselves on a regular basis
(Source: Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007)
- In the UK, 170,000 people per year attend hospital for self-poisoning alone
(Source: Samaritans – taken from ‘Self-harm and Suicide’ – www.samaritans.org)
You can find facts like the above all across the internet. It paints a bleak picture, but its purpose is to inform us of what is, statistically, happening around us. We use our eyes, but we do not see. We hear the words, but we do not listen. We have a habit of going through life, often unaware of the problems of others. Why..? Well, we have problems of our own don’t we…
So, how can we define self-harm?
Well, self-harm can involve; cutting / burning / scalding / banging or scratching our own bodies / breaking bones / pulling out hair, nails, skin / ingesting toxic substances or objects / alcohol & drug use to ‘numb-the-pain’. However, self-harm may also take less obvious forms such as taking stupid risks / staying in an abusive relationship / developing an eating problem, such as anorexia or bulimia / not looking after our own physical and mental needs.
But, as human beings, we are self-destructive at times. It is ordinary behaviour – eating too much or too little, working long hours day after day, neglecting sleep, smoking, drinking, all to avoid being alone with our thoughts.
So, what is the difference?
Self-harm is a way of expressing deep distress. If you’re familiar with the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’, then that sentiment puts you in the right area, though in this case, it might be more apt to say ‘actions speak when words cannot’? It is a reaction to a negative state of being. In my personal case, it was an excuse to create a tangible sequence of events in my head; sad = cut, cut = pain, pain = relief.
In my own warped way, it made sense (no… better…), it made IMMEDIATE sense. But in reality, I just lacked the ability to help myself, and could not see an opportunity to get help. I had no understanding of why. Was it a cry for help? Maybe, maybe not, because I was embarrassed, perhaps I was even ashamed of what I was doing. I didn’t want others to see my scars. I didn’t want other people to see me as anything other than normal.
What I had to recognise was that “self-harm is a symptom of underlying mental of emotional trouble, not the problem in itself”. It isn’t the best way of dealing with problems. In truth, regardless of the reasons for self harming, if I was happy, and I mean, really felt happy, I wouldn’t have self-harmed.
(Quote Source: ‘Truth Hurts’ National inquiry into Self-harm and Young People)
So, what now?
Well, we need to break down some grey areas. Make some things a little clearer.
Self-harm is not a spectator sport, it isn’t because of peer pressure or rock n’ roll, it isn’t a competition nor is it a club (if it was, the benefits would suck and the turnover would be ridiculous). The majority of cases are NOT ‘attention seeking’. Please take the time to read that bit again. The vast majority of young people who self-harm are not trying to kill themselves – they are trying to cope.
In 2006, there was a report entitled ‘Truth Hurts’ report, which was a national enquiry report to do with self harm. Here are some statistics to help better understand how others have dealt with problems of self-harm:
- 82.4% of people found help in a friend concerning their self-harm
- 61.3% of people found help through a GP
- 60.6% through Psychiatric services
- 31% through a voluntary organisation
- 16.2% through social work
In terms of helpfulness:
- 88.7% found voluntary/local organisations helpful
- 82% found their friends helpful
- 64.3% found their GP helpful
- 42.5% found relatives helpful
What young people thought ‘would’ be helpful:
- 85.2% thought 1:1 support / counselling
- 71.1% thought group support / drop-in
- 59.9% thought creative initiatives
- 37.3% thought family
- 20.4% thought self-help
(Source: The national Inquiry into Self-harm, ‘Truth-Hurts’ report 2006 – People who visited the National Inquiry into Self-Harm’s website were asked to fill in a detailed multiple choice questionnaire. A total of 142 young people aged from 13 upwards, with an average age of 20, completed questionnaires. There were 137 females and 5 males)
So, where do we go from here?
It isn’t cut and dry. Not much has been done in the way of research into self-harm, but there is help out there. There are people who will put aside time to listen to you and your problems. Like almost anything, self-harm can become addictive, habitual. It can become a way of exorcising all the shit we feel we suffer simply by being. Most people stop hurting themselves when the time is right. The BEST way to stop is to learn better coping skills. There are many alternatives, but sadly, the majority of self-harmers are young adolescents; those who may feel invincible one day, and then struggle to smile the next, and therefore do not have the knowledge or understanding (or experience) to cope.
It is easy to think that it will be a one-off experience, but it could become a crutch. So much time thinking that it will sort itself out – when we have the time to think about it properly, but that’s the catch isn’t it? We don’t want to face our problems and of that, we’re continually guilty.
The very worst feeling is that of being alone, of being misunderstood. These bring about feelings of neglect and periods of isolation, these lead to depression which is short walk to a room in your head that you fall into. It has four windowless brick walls, and each wall is higher than you can fathom. Soon a feeling of hopelessness sets in and if you’ve never been there before, it is a hard place to come out from without scars. But remember this, there is help and there is hope and there is you. And even though you can’t see it, you are wonderful, you are thought about, you are loved, you are missed, you are here.
Links and further reading
- www.samaritans.org – Samaritans
- www.selfharmuk.org – National Inquiry into Self-harm among Young People
- www.selfharm.net – Self-injury help website
- www.thesite.org – The Site
- www.mind.org.uk – Mind
- www.befrienders.org – Befrienders Wolrdwide
- www.dh.gov.uk – Department of Health
- www.childline.org.uk – Childline
Also, there may be organisations in your local area who offer free confidential services. In Hounslow there is
- www.hycs.org – Hounslow Youth Counselling Service
Sources (other than those mentioned)