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Dedicated to self-harm recovery, insight and support.

4 things you need to know when you've been diagnosed with a mental health problem

The article below was written by Mike Jones, a fighter against mental illness stigma. By creating www.schizlife.com, he hopes to shed some light on the symptoms of schizophrenia, how to help someone dealing with it, as well as the stereotypes surrounding this disorder.

A diagnosis of a mental health problem can feel like a ton of bricks has just come pounding down around you. Things might feel overwhelming, almost as if the world is spinning out of control. You might be wondering if things will ever get better. Don't worry, all of this is completely normal. The most important thing to remember is that you really are in control of your life.

1.    You are not the only one and your mental health problem does not define you

When you look around, it might seem as if you're the only person dealing with something this difficult. You couldn't be more mistaken. One out of every ten children faces a similar battle. Demi Lovato, Angelina Jolie, Russel Brand, and Kristin Bell have all struggled with mental health issues. It's simply more common than you think. Just because you don't hear your friends talking about it doesn't mean they aren't grappling with their own mental health difficulties.

You're a complex person with unique talents, likes, dislikes, and tastes. Maybe you're creative, a great friend, or an amazing artist. Do you despise tomatoes, love pasta, and adore dogs? Whoever you are, you already were, before learning of your mental health diagnosis. Your gifts and talents are still there. And whatever you love to hate, is too! Your mental illness is just as much a part of you as your gifts, talents, and pet peeves. All of these things together create the amazing person you are, but no single one defines you. Your mental illness is not who you are.

2.    Knowing your diagnosis gives you power

A mental health diagnosis names the thoughts and behaviors that have been getting in the way of your goals and dreams. Now you have the opportunity to take control of your life. Knowledge is power. With your diagnosis, you have access to important information and resources that will allow you to determine how to face the obstacles created by your mental health.

You're in the driver's seat now. You get to choose how to address this challenge. On the Be Vocal website, Demi Lovato describes her feelings and the actions she took after finding out about her mental illness. "Getting a diagnosis was kind of a relief. It helped me start to make sense of the harmful things I was doing to cope with what I was experiencing. Now I had no choice but to move forward and learn how to live with it, so I worked with my health care professional and tried different treatment plans until I found what works for me." That worked out pretty well for her!

3.    What other people think is not your problem

Having a strong social support network is extremely important when it comes to managing your mental health problem. Don't allow the stigma associated with mental health to convince you to accept a sense of shame and stop reaching out to people. Take responsibility for your own sense of safety. You decide who to talk to, how much to disclose, and under what circumstances.

A random individual's inability to behave rationally says nothing about you and a great deal about them. Understand that your judgement in these matters will never be perfect. That's part of the learning process. Over time it will become easier and you'll get better at learning who to trust, how much to disclose, and under what circumstances you feel comfortable discussing things that make you vulnerable. But never stop building your tribe.

4.    You still get to decide who you want to be

Part of growing up, even for teens without mental health struggles, is figuring out how to exist as a unique individual in this world. What kind of person do you want to be? What footprint do you want to leave? Do you want to be someone who lives in fear? Or do you want to rise to the challenge of honoring the entirety of who you are? Do you have the courage to refuse to allow others to treat you in ways lacking in courtesy and respect? Do you know how to set limits while still remaining faithful to your own values?

Dealing with a diagnosis of mental illness forces you to consciously address these questions now instead of later. This gives you an opportunity to walk consciously and with grace into adulthood. Your diagnosis has given you the chance to begin asking and answering the questions that give a life meaning. Find your answers and then systematically implement them in the way you structure your days.

You always have choices. Always. Mental illness does not take away your power. Don't let anyone tell you that it does. You are strong enough to manage this. Ask questions, reach out, make decisions, and shape your own life. How are you going to face this? What's your plan of action? What steps are you going to take to soften the sharp and painful edges of the symptoms of your mental illness so that you stay on top of its ups and downs? No one is saying that this will be easy. But it absolutely can be done.

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Quiet – shhhh…

We have heard it from parents, teachers and librarians countless times in our lives and, sadly, often negatively, in a ‘don’t make any noise’ sense!

How about ‘quiet’ in a positive way? ‘quiet’ said in a soothing, gentle way encourages us to relax, breathe and slow down.

Silence and quiet are things that are hard to achieve – maybe we don’t enjoy our own company; maybe we like to keep busy and have background noise constantly; maybe silence isn’t something we are comfortable with?

If silence isn’t something you feel comfortable with it, try it in small amounts to begin with. Thursday 14th September is National Quiet Day, a day all about encouraging you to find a place that feels safe and comfortable where you can relax (or maybe even fall asleep, as that’s what tends to happen when we find places that are quiet!).

Finding quiet in our noisy, crammed lives is hard. It is a discipline we have to learn to take time to listen to what our feelings are saying, what our thoughts are wanting us to ponder and what our body is trying to tell us about how we are doing physically.

You might find sitting with your own thoughts uncomfortable; perhaps all your thoughts and feelings come flooding into your head? That’s ok – write them down, tackle them one by one and give yourself time to think through each feeling that comes into your thoughts. Acknowledge it. Name the feeling. Validate it in the way you would let a friend know you understand them – give yourself permission to feel.

Perhaps finding your quiet place will allow you to draw or sing your thoughts? Hey, no one needs to see or hear you (that’s the joy of a quiet place!), so if you want to sing, shout, cry or laugh – do!

Perhaps reading will allow you some time to read for pleasure? Read slowly enjoying each paragraph. Find a book you loved as a child and go back to it.

Perhaps learning to breathe slower, deeper so your lungs are filled like a balloon might help you relax your muscles, your brain and anxieties?

Quiet offers us the ability to listen to ourselves. Giving yourself the gift of quiet allows you to give you what you give to some many others: your concentration, your love and your thoughts.

This year, why not use National Quiet Day to find some quiet to be with yourself?

If you already have your very own quiet place - we’d love to see it! This could be anything from that bench that you always find peaceful on your daily dog walk, that patch of grass on top of that hill with the best view near your house, your sofa at home or even that place you always like to sit at your favourite cafe. Send your images to info@selfharm.co.uk and we’ll post the best ones on our Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter on the day in the hope of inspiring others to find their own quiet places.

You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. #NationalQuietDay

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Starting again…and again…and again….

September brings new challenges for many of us – a new term isn’t just back at school or college, it’s all the changes it brings: new classes, new teachers, different people in our classes, a change in timetable, pressured teachers pressuring us to do well, and the hope that this year we will ‘do better’.

What if you don’t need to ‘do better’? what if actually just ‘doing enough’ is good enough this year for you? Pressure to achieve and fear of failure is a big reason why so many of us struggle with our mental health – we are scared that we won’t make the grades, fit in with the right people, that others are better than us, we want to make our family proud and then, sadly, we take it out on ourselves if we think we aren’t ‘doing better’ this year.

So, let’s turn it around this academic year – what if you teach yourself to hear this statement every time you are told about how hard you are going to have to work this academic year: ‘ just do enough, by your own standards’ (this isn’t in any way your ticket to ‘don’t care and just fly by the seat of your pants’!), it’s an instruction to learn something new this year:

Be gentle with yourself. There is only one you.

Good enough might not get you the grades you want but it might just keep you well enough to be able to cope with how you are feeling.

Good enough might just relieve the deep pressure that keeps you awake at night.

Good enough might allow you time to flourish outside of academic pressure and develop new skills on things you are passionate about.

Good enough means that it doesn’t matter how many times you have to ‘start again’, each time is good enough because each day, you are doing good enough.

You are more than ‘good enough’, you really are - whether you believe it not.

As we all start again, have hope that this year, however many times you need to start again in your journey coping with self-harm; it is good enough.

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The pressure got to me

Rebekah Wilson is an Olympic athlete: a physically strong, able bodied woman who is amongst the elite to be able to compete for her country. However, in this interview with BBC news, Rebekah tells what life behind closed doors was like for her; the pressure to achieve; the feel of failure. She talks about recognising she needed help to overcome self-harm as being one of her biggest life challenges.

You can watch Rebekah's interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/winter-sports/40738768


If, once you have watched Rebekah’s interview, you would like to get in touch to chat, to find support or to ask a question; please email info@selfharm.co.uk
 

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I cut myself to live

“ I cut myself to live, not die”: A response to Chester Bennington’s death.

This is a quote from a young person we worked with at SelfharmUK. It is the voice of hundreds of teenagers who are using self-harm to live; self-harm is a coping strategy, for a time, until those thoughts, feelings and pressures become resolved.

For most, it passes – for some quicker than others, for some not until later in life, very occasionally it’s a life-long coping strategy.

Today, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park took his life. A life filled with abuse from a young age which led to drug and alcohol issues, which in turn led to long bouts of depression – the most recent it seems, linked to his friend’s suicide attempt. It makes us all sad – whether we were fans or not – because a gifted, talented and troubled man found life so hard to continue. Because he wasn’t able to share his pain. Because he felt there was no other way. Because he was under such pressure.  Because…...we will never know why.

At some many points Chester had choices which he may not have felt he had: who to talk to; where to ask for help; how to get the dark thoughts out in other ways – like his music; to take a break from the public pressure; to stay home and hug his wife and kids; to confront his past…...These were all choices that he possibly didn’t know he had, and now never will.

They are choices that will affect his children, wife, family, friends, neighbours and fans for varying lengths of time: but each will feel pain.

Inner pain is something we all struggle to talk about: the fear of being judged; the fear of everyone’s reaction (over reaction); the consequences of what telling some- one about your dark thoughts might mean; how to find the words and who to tell.

At SelfharmUK – we like to listen; we never ever judge; we are safe people to explore these thoughts and feelings with; we are unshockable (I promise you that!); you can practice what you want to tell your family by telling us first; we will keep in touch with you for as long as your recovery takes; we can discuss your choices with you – especially when it feels like you don’t have any.

Self-harm is about living, not dying.

Very occaisonally we feel the shift from wanting to cope, to wanting to stop coping.

That’s when we have choices: who to talk to, how to communicate, who won’t judge us, who is ‘safe’.

You can ring or text the Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org , Childline can be contacted on 0800 1111, or online counselling support at www.the mix.org.uk

Or sign up to our online support at info@selfharm.co.uk

You are not alone.

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10 tips for managing your mental health

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, Jo Fitzsimmons shares her thoughts on how you could think about managing your mental health going forward in our latest blog.

Here are 10 things you might not have known about managing your mental health:

  • Extroverts can have poor mental health – ask them! They like to talk!
  • People who are appearing to hold it all together; might not be, and in fact, probably aren’t.
  • Most people only have 1 real friend (yep – my counsellor told me that, honest!) Find your 1 and learn to be open with them.
  • Get rid of people in your life who don’t return your calls/texts/FB messages – don’t put energy into unreturned ‘friendships’, some people are fun to be around, some people aren’t. reduce your friends!
  • Caregivers are often overlooked – the people who put others first are often taken for granted, so when they struggle they don’t have people to ask for help.
  •  Conserve your energy – some days give yourself permission to rest, tomorrow might require more energy than you currently have.
  • Consider medication for your mental health: if you had a physical illness you would take something for it; perhaps you need to consider it as a real option and talk to your GP.
  • Consider coming off your meds if you have been on them for many years – talk to your GP about the implications and risks of it; perhaps taking up exercise or having a project may help your mental health (watch Mind over Marathon on the BBC iplayer if you need inspiration).
  • Get a dog. It’s the best thing I ever did, it gets me away from my kids, house and work long enough for a walk around my council estate to calm down.
  • Get rid of your phone, or swop to a cruddy basic one that doesn’t make you wonder what everyone on ‘bragbook’ (facebook) is doing or bring worrying news headline alerts to your hands.
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Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

Physically we are all well, or unwell; it’s easy to spot an unwell person in a queue next to a well person – there are physical signs like runny noses, pale skin, perhaps reduced mobility, sleepless eyes.

What does a person who is unwell emotionally look like?

Nope? No guesses…? That’s because a person can look ‘well’ on the outside but be very unwell in their self esteem, their confidence, their ability to think clearly, to sleep well, have high anxiety which leads to panic attacks, or deep depression. The fact is this: with 7 in 10 young people having poor mental health now, you don’t know if someone is well or not in their thought life.

The recent report on behalf of the government states that young people have the highest levels of poor mental health. Young people aged 18-25 report not being able to think clearly, have positive relationships, feeling like they aren’t able to contribute to society and feel devalued. Wow, what a frightening picture this shows.

Contrast this with people over 55 who have the best mental health and what can we learn:

- Older people feel confident to make new friends and join groups; young people feel nervous about joining a new group for fear of being judged;

- Older people take up new hobbies and activities; young people often can’t afford new hobbies or expensive activities;

- Older people have built up trust worthy groups of friends; young people struggle to know who their ‘real friends’ are rather than those who just ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ their thoughts.

Let’s face it; age does bring experience and knowledge – but can we wait 40 years for teenagers to grow up into confident older people?

So – if you are a young person struggling with your emotional and mental health here are some ideas for you to try in Mental Health Awareness week:

  • Accept it. Today is the day you face it; you may have been feeling low for quite sometime but just keep thinking ‘tomorrow will be better’, well maybe it will – but how about recognising that the last few days, weeks or months haven’t been great and your mental health isn’t in a good way?
  • Talk. To trusted friends. To someone who will listen. To childline. To Samaritans. To Self-Harm UK if you have been feeling so low you have hurt yourself in some way. Talking doesn’t magic your feelings away, however, it is proven to reduce anxiety, feelings of isolation and increase confidence in your own decision making.
  • Do something! When I was a kid there was a TV show with the line’ get out of bed and do something else instead’ – not easy if you are finding life overwhelming and filled with worry. What about asking a friend to try something with you? How about finding a ‘how to knit’ clip on youtube? What about taking a run? Like reading – join a library? Exercise is a proven way of helping you sleep and making you feel better by the chemicals it releases in your brain. If outdoors stuff isn’t your thing – tire your brain out by reading, knitting, drawing, doing sudoko, writing….find your ‘thing’ that relaxes you.
  • Get ‘real’ friends. Consider gently avoid those you don’t think have your best interest at heart. It doesn’t need to be communicated but, gradually, just loose touch with people in your life who aren’t good for you. Find friends in real life; not just online. Joining a group can be hugely daunting, but at some point, everyone in that group was new once: give it a go!
  • Look after yourself. If we are down, the first to go is often eating well. Followed by sleeping well, combined with not getting dressed or washing your hair. A few days of it is fine, but, maybe not a few weeks. The less care we take of ourselves, the more we are showing the world we feel we don’t matter and they shouldn’t think we do either. Not true. Honestly. It might be how you feel, but it isn’t a true fact.
  • Get out of bed earlier. Start by getting out of bed half an hour earlier each day; add in a shower; a walk around the block; making yourself some lunch; take another walk (see if anyone needs their dog walking or an elderly person needs some shopping)
  • Write a ‘thankful list’. Write happy days, memories, lists of people you are thankful for, the bed you have, the clean water you have, your pets – whatever makes you happy. Pin it up and read it every day.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/surviving-or-thriving-state-uks-mental-health

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Let’s be honest: Christmas isn’t always fun is it?

This article was written by a member of the SelfharmUK team, Jo Fitzsimmons. Jo is our Alumina Program Manager and has parented a child who was a self-harmer for many years. She has an acute understanding of the impact self-harm has on not only young people, but their whole family. She hopes you find the below helpful.

All those lovely adverts on tv of families playing board games, watching each other open their presents laughing and smiling, the Christmas films where families realise they love each other more than any present they have ever had….

In my house reality looked like:

Smiling when you got a knocked off Care Bear that was misshapen and looked nothing like the ones my friends had; watching your parents  argue by 10 am as the pressure to be nice to each other all day is too much; my missing my Nan who passed away recently but we never mention her; once the presents have been opened we all disperse and meet up 3 hours later to eat too much food (that I hate myself for doing) and then fall asleep watching a crud film….

Sound like yours?

Or Maybe YOU LOVE Christmas?

Perhaps having people around you is a good thing as it makes you smile, gives you chance to see people who you actually like spending time with and you feel you can talk to; maybe the Christmas films take you back to feeling younger and happier…?

Either way – we can’t ignore it…It is Christmas! However we feel about it….

We know for some young people the idea of endless days spent at home with family is hard; perhaps being told you have to see relatives you don’t like causes you anxiety; perhaps you are missing a person you love at Christmas. However you feel, we want to get you through this, so here’s our tips for you:

Surviving Christmas Tips:

  • If you struggle spending time with family you don’t often see – find the nicest one in the room and zone in on them (easy if it’s someone you can play on an ipad or wii with so your family can’t complain too much about you ‘not being sociable’!
  • Give yourself breaks on your own if you need them- song lyrics, art, writing, music, reading, knitting are good ways to relax, sometimes our hands and our minds are best off busy so we focus in things other than how we feel.
  • Plan- maybe do yourself a daily plan to keep busy, combining gentle exercise with your fav hobby…try a new thing you have been thinking of.
  • Have a ready made contact list of friends if you need to – people you can text/message day and night.
  • If you are missing a loved one, how about making a present for them and putting it under the tree? It can be very helpful to acknowledge them over the Christmas time. Memory boxes out of shoes boxes, stars to put on the Tree, letters to the person – might all be helpful things to try.
  • Relaxing is so important especially if you find this time of year hard- slowing your breathing and relaxing your muscles helps reduce your anxiety, try downloading a Mindfulness app, give it a try a few times….
  • Eat healthily and sleep well – try and keep routines as much as possible, and yes, we know how tempting it is to eat the whole box of Quality Street and we all deserve a treat but….
  • Alumina on Demand is our on demand support for young people aged 14-18 who are struggling with self harm – while it’s the Christmas holidays, maybe join up and begin to work through the programme while you don’t have school and college pressures? Most days of the Christmas break someone on the Self Harm UK team is working, you can email us.
  • If you happen to feel very low, you can call Childline or Samaritans anytime at all.

May you know Hope this Christmas.

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Festival Love

Laura Haddow, Training and Marketing Manger for SelfharmUK, talks openly and honestly about how she supported her ex-partner with self-harm. She talks frankly about how lonely this can feel and ends with some encouraging words for all who may be supporting a loved one with self-harm. 

 

We first met at a festival.

It was July and I was a blue haired 16-year-old girl who sat down next to a long haired (hot) musician guy in a field and unexpectedly became swept up in a summer romance that lasted the next 5 years.

He was the singer/songwriter in a band and so insanely talented. Watching him perform on stage night after night you just couldn’t take your eyes off him, so full of energy and passion in being in the spotlight and doing what he loved.

Life moved fast and before we knew it we had moved in together and got engaged, I was smitten.

I’d never really come across self-harm before so when it first happened I didn’t really know what to feel other than panic.

Things would suddenly just overwhelm him and this wonderful outwardly happy guy would spiral fast into a very dark place where even I wasn’t allowed in to help.

I didn’t talk to anyone for years about it. It got worse and worse, the anger, the harming, I felt alone and helpless. How do you stop someone you love from hurting themselves? Was it my fault? Why was it getting worse?

I look back at myself then and wish I knew what I know now, I wish the world was as ready and open to talk about self-harm and mental health back then as it is now but it wasn’t, and whatever avenue I took for help ended in a full stop.

Maybe you relate to this? Maybe you’re watching someone you love battling with self-harm and are at a crossroads unsure of what to do or where to go for help. Here’s a few pointers that I hope will help:

 

You are not alone and you are not to blame I repeat, you are not alone and are not to blame.

You also urgently need support and you mustn’t keep handling this alone without help, it’s too hard and will start having an impact on you- find someone you trust and tell them what is going on.
Talk to your GP for advice

Get resourced with some good information around the subject and ways to support a loved one. SelfharmUK has lots of helpful information pages plus some great resources on the store especially the Parents Guide and book- Self-harm; the path to recovery).

Look after yourself as well as your loved one, it can be incredibly draining supporting someone around this issue so make sure you are taking care of your health too, talk, rest, eat well and ask for extra help when you feel you need it.

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Feel it, own it, explore it

Oby Bamidele, a qualified counsellor helps us to think about the best way to reach out and work with young people who are self-harming. She challenges us to think first about ourselves and leaves us with powerful lessons in helping young people to own and explore their pain.  

 

When I started working with young people who self-harm, I was deeply challenged in my thinking and in the way I work. I realised that in order for me to support a self-harmer I had to do the following things.

1) Challenge my own thoughts and feelings about self-harm
2) Stop trying to “fix” the self-harmer’s behaviour
3) Listen
4) Ask questions
5) Be honest and open

As soon as I began to apply the above,

I noticed a vast improvement in the way I worked with my clients. It became about understanding the emotions behind self-harm rather than focusing on self-harming itself. One thing all self-harmers have in common is emotional pain.

Emotional pain can be so intense and it can hurt just like physical pain. With physical pain you can at least pinpoint the source. Not so with emotional pain. Sometimes the busyness of the day can block it away, but soon enough that same old familiar feeling that threatens to drown, condemn and consume you resurfaces.  Self-harm itself becomes the outlet to release the emotional pain and find respite, even if just for a little while.

Listening is a major part of the work in self-harm as it allows the self-harmer to process their thoughts and feelings. There is a tendency to block off or suppress inner thoughts and feelings which are too painful to accept or perhaps we feel others will find unacceptable. However, the more you can open up to working through those feelings, the more you can understand.

I encourage my self-harmers to own their pain using the model:

 FEEL IT, OWN IT, EXPLORE IT

1) Feel your pain - When you recognise that familiar painful feeling beckoning, allow yourself a few minutes to sit and feel the pain. My emotional pain is my mind’s way of telling me that there are some deep feelings which I need to address. What is the pain you are feeling? Is it hurt, shame, anger, hate, betrayal, jealousy? Do you feel like crying?  It helps to speak out what you are feeling. For example, “I feel ashamed” “I feel like crying” “I feel horrible about myself”

2) Own Your Pain – We tend to struggle to own our pain, because it is usually associated with a judgement of ourselves and shows a side of us we don’t want to accept. For example, it might feel really difficult to own feelings of hate, shame or rejection. But the emotion already exists and until we own it we can’t address or begin to understand it.

3) Explore your pain – Once you have been through the process of feeling and owning our pain, you are then able to explore and understand it. Remember that pain is a signal that something is amiss within us.  We can use our pain to direct us to the source. What triggered the feelings? What was the experience? What does it say about you? How do you feel about you? What is the way forward?

Working through emotional pain in this way is a powerful self-awareness practice and can really heal painful emotions. 

Oby Bamidele (MBACP)
Counsellor
web: www.obybamidele.com
website: www.wisegate-schoolcounselling.co.uk

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Talking To The Doctor

Here at SelfharmUK we want to help people understand their harming behaviour and explore other ways to cope with life's challenges.

If you get in touch we'll listen to your story and suggest ways to help you move forward ... but somewhere along the line we'll almost always suggest you visit your GP.  This can be a really tough thing to do, we know it can be scary, and can mean having to tell your parents too (though not always) but we believe it can be a significant step towards feeling better.

We asked GP David Roberts what you can expect when talking to your doctor about self-harm and whilst this article is only a guide - and not a definitive set of facts - we hope it will help you feel more in control, if and when, you walk into that consulting room...

Why do I have to go to the Doctor?

Self-harming is usually an indication that all is not right. People sometimes do it because it relieves internal tension and stress. It is not a very good way of doing this and like drugs, alcohol and smoking ultimately doesn't do any good. But in the short term it gives a temporary relief from emotional pain. However, it can be a symptom of a more serious mental illness and so your doctor can make sure you get the help you need.

Can I go on my own or do I have to take a parent?

You can legally go to the GP alone aged 16, but doctors can accept that you may be able to make your own decisions about your health (eg contraception) from 14 if they think you understand things and are mature enough to do so. A doctor would want you to involve your parent(s) in your care until you are 16 and are likely to encourage you. They would not give you an injection or carry out an operation, or even do an intimate (embarrassing) examination (physical check) without your parent's permission before you are 16.

How can I get ready for my appointment?

Even if you are under 16 That does not mean that you cannot talk to them about your problems or issues. It is a good idea to think about what you want to say and write the main points down. Lots of people get embarrassed at what they want to say and so don't get to the point. Doctors are busy and don't get embarrassed by what you think or say, so it is better to take a deep breath and say it right at the beginning rather than put it off. They won't mind and it will give them more time to talk to you than if you spend the first five minutes talking about a rash that no one can see because it really isn't there!  Think about what you want to get out of the appointment - do you just want to tell someone and get it off your chest, do you want help stopping it, do you want them to refer you on to someone who could give you specialist help? If you tell them what you want then they can work out how best to support you.

What will happen if I say I self harm?

Self harming is quite common and they will have seen other people who do it. So they won't be shocked, but they will be concerned. The biggest concern they would have is that you might want to kill yourself. Not many people who self harm want to do this but doctors have a professional duty to assess the risk of that happening. they are obliged to keep what you say confidential and private between you and them, unless you tell them something that they think might indicate that your health is seriously at risk (or you might be planning to do something that might endanger someone else) - see later - in which case they may be obliged to break your confidence. They should tell you this. They will want to help you, and so if you have plucked up courage to tell them, they will try to find ways to do that.

What will they ask me?

This might include asking some deep questions which you might find embarrassing: don't be though, they're only trying to work out what's making you do this. They'll ask about cutting, taking drugs, overdoses, and other ways you might be tempted to hurt yourself. They may ask you about how you feel (low, depressed, crying, worried, frightened, angry) and how things are at home or school or work.  If they feel you trust them they might ask you to come back again to see them, and they might suggest that they refer you on to see a specialist from the CAMH service (people who work most of their time with young people with similar problems). They might encourage you to speak to a counsellor at school, particularly if there is someone there you feel you can talk to. They will want to know why you have come to see them at that time and to find out what help you want them to give you. You may not be able to say this, but if you've thought about it beforehand it will help.

Do they have to tell my parents?

They are obliged in law to protect you and others from actions you might take that might harm you or others. But they need to check how likely your might be to do something you say you want to do so they will question you quite hard. If you are under 16 and they think you are suicidal (or planning a murder!) they will have to tell your parents or other authorities. They will still encourage you to involve your parents as they have legal responsibility for you, but if the risk is low in their view, they will try their best to keep what you say confidential.

Will I have to show them where I have self-harmed?

They can't and won't force you (unless they are seriously worried about you being in danger and even then they will ask for advice from someone who specialises in child protection). They will want to assess how bad your injuries are - you might need antibiotics if your cuts are infected, and you might need dressings to protect the wounds.

Remember they aren't easily shocked or embarrassed and really want to help you - showing them the extent of your cutting will help them work out how serious the problem is and how to get you the best help.

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Warning - Implosive!

Emotionally exploding can be dangerous, often we end up hurting those closest to us and we don’t necessarily feel any better for it afterwards. That being said, sometimes I wish I had just exploded. Instead I was imploding.  I thought the latter would be safer, only hurting myself but really it’s just as dangerous as the first option.  I thought that I could handle everything I was feeling but the truth is I didn’t even know what I was feeling. I couldn’t separate out my emotions. Was I angry, hurt, depressed, frustrated, sad…? If I couldn’t even pin point what I was feeling, how could I explain it to anyone else?  How could someone else understand what I couldn’t understand? So I bottled it up inside, trying to deal with it myself.  Anxiety started to become the overriding emotion and once a week I would implode.  Panic would take over my body; I couldn’t get out of bed.  Simple tasks would fill me with fear and make my heart race. 

I tried talking to a friend about it a couple of times – they wanted to help and suggest things that I could do to help myself but I couldn’t hear it.  The fact that they could talk about my feelings so rationally and offer solutions so easily just made me feel pathetic.  I felt that I was the problem – I couldn’t cope with simple situations that other people could easily manage if they were in my position.

It seemed so hopeless until one day I had arranged to see the careers advisor at my work.  Before I knew it I was blurting out an incoherent, blubbering, rambling mess of how I was feeling. She was a stranger, sat there listening in silence until I had finished. When I’d finished, she didn’t try to offer an answer, she simply acknowledged that what I was feeling was valid. I wasn’t crazy, just confused and being too hard on myself. She offered me sessions with a counsellor where I could have the space and time to try and get to the source of what I was feeling, identify what was triggering my anxiety, and work on some practical tools I could use to stay calmer during an episode of anxiety. I’m still a work in progress but, a year after my turning point I feel the burden has lifted significantly. I’m trying to keep my family and friends clued in on what I’m working through so they can help spot when I am feeling overwhelmed.  When I feel the tendency to bottle it all up and implode I turn to someone I really trust and simply say “I’m feeling anxious today but I’m not really sure why”.  They don’t always understand but they are trying to.  I think it helps them to know I am not being distant and moody; I’m just trying to stay above water.

Try talking to someone. If you feel you can talk to a friend or family member then give it a go. If it doesn’t make you feel instantly better that’s ok. There are other options out there. If you would rather talk to a stranger, there are great free services through school, or through a recommendation by your GP.  If you don’t know what to talk about or can’t put into words how you are feeling then even saying that is a start. Stop beating yourself up for not being able to cope.  It’s ok to admit that you feel overwhelmed.  It will take time but you can feel better.  You deserve to be happy.

 Louise is a Research Scientist working in Dublin i.e. she is a massive geek. She is passionate about informing and encouraging young adults - empowering them to realise how awesome they truly are!

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Walking on Custard

Anxiety. 

I know so many people who struggle with this, and over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a number of people speak out about it, sharing their journey and ways they have started to overcome it.

Recently, a guy called Neil Hugh's TED Talk came out, and in this he shared how he relates his anxiety to walking on custard! (Intriguing, right?!)

He spoke about how to live life less anxiously by recognising and changing our unhelpful mental habits. One thing that stood out for me was how we need to get to know ourselves more, and pay attention to the thoughts we have. A habit we tend to have with anxiety, is letting our thoughts spiral. I know I’ve done this a numerous amount of times – I’d make a comment, and straight away notice how ‘stupid’ it was. This would slowly spiral to the conclusion that the people who heard my ‘ridiculous’ comment now hated me, when in reality, they most likely didn't think anything of it. Neil explains that when we recognise our first thought, we can choose our reaction to it, and therefore we don’t have to let it spiral.

Neil really wants to encourage others to open up and speak out about anxiety and mental health.

Here’s Neil’s TED talk, it’s definitely worth a watch!

A new plan for anxious feelings: escape the custard!
Neil Hugh's TED Talk
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Coping With Scars

Whether you’re currently in the midst of struggling with self harm, giving up, or have stopped for years, scars can be a difficult part of self harm to deal with. I’d say I’ve pretty much accepted my scars now, yet sat on a coach writing this, bare arms, I still find myself automatically trying to cover up as someone walks past my seat.

When you were younger, did you love to show your grazes and cuts to others when you were injured from maybe climbing a tree, or doing something adventurous? Feeling proud and wanting to tell everyone how you got that injury, and even once it had healed, still showing off your scars, no matter how big or small it was?

As we grow up, this can still be the case, but scars from self harm can leave us feeling ashamed, disgusted or angry at ourselves, and are certainly something we wouldn’t point out to everyone. We even go that bit further and make the effort to actively hide them - to avoid exposing our secret, avoid the stares or questions, avoid being made to feel uncomfortable.

I really like the theme this month – Survival Scars. It makes you look at scars in a different way. They make me think of coming out of a battle, like warriors with scars, reminding us that we fought and survived. I’ve found that the way we view scars makes a huge difference when coping with them.

Being able to cope with your scars doesn’t necessarily mean showing them off. Scars are there whether we hide them or not. I think coping with scars, for me, is about acceptance. The more we accept our scars, the easier we will find it to cope with them.

A few important things to remember:

> Scars may not be as obvious as we think they are to other people. Because we know they’re there it means we’re naturally going to be more aware of them.

> One day your scars could give you the opportunity to help someone else on their journey.

> They show that through deep emotional pain, you strove to survive – so if people stare or make comments about them, don’t be ashamed, they don’t know your story and how far you’ve come.

> If you have worries about later on in life, about how you’ll deal with your scars in marriage/if you have children etc. Don’t worry about that right now, you don’t know how far you will have come by then, and it may not be a worry at all when you reach that point

Accepting your scars is a process, it may be difficult at first, but just as wounds take time to heal, so does how you view your scars. Each person is different so what could take months for one person could take years for someone else, and that’s totally okay.

Your scars are a sign of survival and healing, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that. You made it out of battle, and that is awesome.

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Is Self-harm really Attention Seeking?

I wonder what you think when you see someone with a cast on? Do you think, poor them, they’re obviously hurting? Or do you think they’re putting it on for sympathy?

And what about someone who’s coughing and sneezing? Do you think they’re doing it to attract attention, or because they have a cold?

Now consider what you think when you see the tell-tale scars of self-harm making plain the pain the days and weeks gone by. 

Do you ask what could have driven them to harm themselves?

Or do you brush them off as attention-seeking?

Attention-seeking is strange concept; we apply it to toddlers having tantrums, celebrities flaunting their latest selfie and increasingly, we see it applied to those who struggle with self-harm. 

And yet for the most part, self-harm is a secret act. It’s something done in the silence of night or the privacy of a bedroom, it’s a way to make sense of hearts and minds in chaos. It’s a futile attempt to balance the outward appearance with the inner pain.

Admittedly many are far more public than I was with their battle; whether it be for respect or seeking understanding, one of the most common conversations I have when I’m running self harm training is why young people in particular feel the need to be so public about their self-harm, why they do it to ‘seek attention’?

In response, I would argue that if our young people can think of no other way to communicate their pain to us, we’re not doing our job well enough. Surely our youth work must enable young people to express creatively what their going through without turning on themselves? It must seek out ways for people to understand and express their deepest emotions.

Self-harm is not a pleasure seeking exercise, it’s the desire to be seen and be heard when we’re hurting. And on one level or another, we’ve probably all done it. We might drink a little more to prove that we’re struggling with that break up, or perhaps we’ll make sure that we aren’t hiding the tracks of our tears, just so that someone will ask us what’s wrong. It’s not attention-seeking, it’s a very real need to be noticed and heard which drives us to make pain public.

But more than that, calling self-harm attention-seeking indicates that people who self-harm aren’t worth our attention, it seems to say that their self-harm is drawing us away from other, more important pursuits. 

And yet what can be more important than hearing the cries of young people, and responding with compassion and understanding?

Young people need our attention, they need our presence and our listening ears. 

They need us to tell them that they are not alone and that they will get through this. 

Self-harm is not done to be attention-seeking, but young people who self-harm deserve our attention. 

Rachael Newham is the Founding Director of ThinkTwice and can usually be found writing words and drinking coffee.

Follow her on @RachaelNewham90 @ThinkTwiceInfo

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