The Miseducation Of Self Harm

Wednesday, February 10

By Samantha Webb

From romanticising to demonising people who self harm, I think society has a very complex and skewed outlook on self injury. It is not glamorous and by no means something to be glorified, but it also isnt something to be ashamed of either.

Whenever i meet someone new for the first time, I make a conscious effort to cover up my body, no matter how hot the weather, or who it is I'm meeting. The truth is; as much as i believe in myself and have come to terms with my past, I am still desperately embarrassed for people to see my scars.

Like 17% of the population, I turned to self harm as a coping mechanism after I experienced a traumatic event at 11. I wasn't just angry, i was depressed, confused and my emotions were constantly at an all time low. It provided me with an instant relief from the internal agony i was facing, well at least it did for a while anyway.

When I was 13 i didn't know that the scars would remain for the rest of my life, and I'd be left as an adult with a constant reminder of my past. Unfortunately for me now, there is still a negative stigma surrounding the topic that makes it hard for me to feel comfortable without long sleeves as a comfort blanket. In summer last year i received comments from a group of teenage boys who shouted across a park "your arms make me feel sick". Of course this seriously damaged my self confidence because, once again, I was labelled by strangers and left feeling embarrassed by my own skin. Alongside many other people, I still feel completely unable to truly embrace myself and still carry so much shame, as I know that for the majority of people, self-injury is unfathomable.

For the first month of Sixth Form i refused to wear short sleeves to school, in fear that someone would make a negative comment, or judge me for having my arms out. As if they were something to be locked away like a dangerous prisoner. The problem is that very few people are educated on the subject of self harm, and don't try to understand the full concept. I find it greatly concerning that there is still such a stigma surrounding it and that it is often seen as an attention seeking behaviour. 

If society is not able to rid itself of these misconceptions, then there is very little hope for a more empathetic and supportive population. 

The stigma around self harm must be abolished. We, as young people, must be the force for change. We must no longer look at scars as if they are something to be feared. We must work together as a generation to inspire, motivate and encourage each other to understand the reasons behind self-injury, alongside working hard to support those who may be struggling.

There are several myths applied to this topic that are extremely important to debunk and explain, in order to provide a clear understanding for those who do not.

Myth One: Self harm is an attention seeking behaviour.

A study conducted by The Mental Health Foundation concluded that adolescents do not approve of using self harm to seek attention. Instead, they reported it as a private matter that is kept in secret to relieve emotional pain. Typically, people who engage in this behaviour don't tell anyone what they are doing, and have difficulty talking to others or asking for help.

Myth Two: Only girls self harm.

It may seem that only females are most affected, but statistics show that about 35% to 50% of those who self harm are male. This shows that the rates of self-harm may be relatively equal between genders and not solely affecting girls.

Myth Three: It only affects teenagers.

Research shows that self harm is more common in adolescents but can occur at any age group. Statistics do show lower rates of the behaviour in adults compared to teenagers, but that does not mean adults do not engage in self-injury. It is also noted that some younger children may self harm, especially if they experience anxiety or significant stress.

Myth Four: Self Harm is rare.

Rates of self injury are higher than most people realise. Due to the sense of shame and secrecy surrounding self harm it may appear uncommon at first. However, statistics show that the prevalence of self harm is 17% during adolescence, 13% during young adulthood and 5.5% among adults.

If you are someone who feels the shame of stigma concerning self harm, please know that you are not alone and that your choice to stay alive is courageous. If you are ready to speak out, please consider making use of the online helplines available such as:    

Samaritans, Childline and Young Minds.

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