It is estimated that 4 in 100 people in the UK struggle with self-harm. It is one of the most common coping mechanisms for those suffering mental illnesses, yet it is still a taboo subject.
Self-harm is when someone intentionally harms or injures themselves. It is often a way of coping with overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and is very misunderstood.
It can be hard to understand what would cause someone to physically harm themselves. As someone who has self-harmed since I was 11 years old, I can still hardly comprehend why. I was hurting so much mentally and struggling so much with the many emotions I was feeling that it seemed like inflicting pain upon myself was the only way to ‘cope’. It was a way of matching the pain I was having on the inside to the outside.
The extent of shame upon myself is small in comparison to how ashamed I am of what other people may think of my actions. Will they think I’m crazy? That I need help? That I’m a ‘psycho’?
Before telling anyone about the way I was feeling, I was more worried about opening up about the self-harm. It petrifies me that anyone would see me as ‘weak’ or ‘vulnerable’. Writing about this subject is extremely difficult, and the thought of being judged is what scares me most.
In a media interview with a newspaper, they asked: do you think you self-harmed for attention? I can honestly say no. I don’t hurt myself for attention. If I wanted attention, I wouldn’t go to every length I do to ensure that my arms are never exposed. For me, it’s a very personal and private thing. It was my way of dealing with things that no one else knew about.
My self-harm journey is unspoken about. No one knows the extent of it and many are unaware I’d even done it. If I’m honest, the last thing I thought I’d talk about to such a large audience is self-injury.
But I promised myself that I had to talk. To make other people realise they’re not alone and help rid the taboo. To raise awareness for those who struggle to understand. To try and make a difference in a society that still don’t take mental illness seriously. How can anyone else feel comfortable talking about it when I don’t dare myself? if I can help just one person, then for me, my job is done.
How can someone who has an amazing support system in her friends, family and school staff, who plays football every week for her home town, who has just accepted a scholarship in America, want to cause physical harm to themselves? This question, and others, I’ve heard before. However, it has never made me feel any better about myself.
When you’re in the depth of despair, under a never-ending storm cloud, overwhelmed with hundreds of emotions, it makes sense. I don’t think I’ll ever know why hurting myself was the one thing I resorted to. But one thing I know did help me, was finally talking about it.
I waited a very long time to actually speak to anyone about what I was doing to my body. One of my biggest fears whilst in this dark place was disappointing the people I cared about most. It took a very long time for my parents, friends and family to come to terms with, and I don’t think they’ll ever fully understand. If I’m honest, I would never want them to understand the incredibly low self-esteem that makes you want to inflict your body with pain. Why would I?
Talking about it with a friend that has been in the same position as me, through medical support, regular GP appointments, medication and one-to-one support from a teacher, I feel like this shameful secret I had, is easier to cope with.
To this day, I refuse to wear short-sleeves. I’m worried about being asked questions, and people looking. I still feel shame somewhat, but I shouldn’t. However, I do feel able to talk more openly about it and that for me, is massive.
We need to get rid of the taboo around self-harm. It’s a lot more common than you think and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s by no means easy, but it is important to banish the stigma and the stereotypes around self-harm, and try and encourage empathy.
Through raising awareness, it can educate not only young people, but society as a whole. We can’t keep pretending and pushing it under the rug. We’ve got to talk about it.