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Dedicated to self-harm recovery, insight and support.

Expectations and dread...

Some people like this lead up to Christmas, some (like me and my family!), really don’t!

The Christmas decorations look pretty and the shops get busier and the Christmas feeling is in the air – but it doesn’t make me get the warm Christmas glow; in fact it begins to make me stressed right from the moment it starts…

The pressure for the perfect film like Christmas family gathering is unachievable – the perfect family game time; the perfect present wrapping, the perfect friends to go out with, the perfect family to share it will – perfection doesn’t exist, in any place at any time.

The media Christmas portrayal adds to our sense of dread – the pressure to smile, laugh, not row, not feel sad – can make us feel very detached from Christmas: so this year, in the lead up here are some tips:

1. Ignore TV films and adverts! We aren’t going to reach a Hollywood Christmas ideal – so let’s not bother. Watch Elf and comedies – they keep a good perspective on it!

via GIPHY

2. Try to imagine Christmas day now – what works for you? Do you need to communicate any of that to your family – who don’t you want to see over Christmas? How long do you have to visit relatives for? Begin to start the conversations now so they don’t come as a shock to your family – take control and be prepared to compromise.

via GIPHY

3. Make stuff – loads and loads of stuff! Don’t buy it, make it. Keep your hands and mind busy, the  personal stuff doesn’t need to cost much nor does it have to be perfect – enjoy the process and the result.

via GIPHY

4. Don’t give yourself sky high expectations of yourself over Christmas. If you need to take regular breaks from family, do it. Look after yourself now so that you have the energy for it as it gets closer; plan out the Christmas holidays so that you get a good balance of rest and play.

via GIPHY

Love,

The SelfharmUK Team

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Sexuality and Self-harm

Lahna talks to us about Sexuality and Self-harm

SelfharmUK vlogs: Sexuality and Self-harm

 Some useful links:

SelfharmUK (that's us!): selfharm.co.uk

Mermaids (Trans* charity): mermaids.org.uk

Albert Kennedy Trust (LGBTQ+ charity): akt.org.uk

Stonewall (LGBTQ+ charity): stonewall.org.uk

Mind (Mental Health Charity): mind.org.uk

Childline (Child Support Charity): childline.org.uk or 0800 1111 or app "For You"

Young Minds (Mental Health Charity): youngminds.org.uk or Parents Helpline 0808-802-5544

For LGBTQ+ groups near you
 

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Hollyoaks: self-harm on TV

Yeah, I know, some people love it and some hate it! Hollyoaks is the marmite of soap operas :0

It is the only soap we watch in my house of 2 teenagers. Why? Because we love the fact that it represents gay people, straight people, mental health issues and race issues far more than anything else on TV (unproportionally so, I know!).

There’s a story line at the moment about Lily Drinkwell (yep, that is her name!) who has begun self-harming after numerous issues in her life: mum dying, boyfriend issues, rejection and body image. It shows the complexity of the emotions: it isn’t ever juts one thing that leads a person to begin to self-harm: it is many, many things that have all layered upon each other to create a set of complex emotions that a person feels are out of control.

Lily impulsively self-harmed the first time: it wasn’t planned, she hadn’t expected to do it. In our experience at SelfharmUK, this is often the way: the first time isn’t thought through but is reaction to huge feelings of strong emotions. Lily then feels guilty and ashamed afterwards: her aunt notices blood on the towel and insists she gets medical attention. This, is where soap opera land differs from real life: for many young people, their self-harm isn’t noticed for some time. It then becomes a coping strategy to deal with those emotions that aren’t going away, but are, in fact, becoming more layered, due to the guilt of self-harming and fear of being ‘found out’.

If this is you, if you are in this cycle, whether it’s been a one off self-harm, or whether you feel you are stuck in this never ending cycle of harming; feeling bad; feeling guilty; harming to release the feelings…; we want to support you.

At SelfharmUK we are pretty unshockable, we don’t judge you, we don’t tell anyone (unless we urgently need to for safety). We aren’t about how TV portrays self-harm; we are about the reality of it: the long haul, no quick fixes, giving you information on looking after yourself and your injuries, ideas about pulling apart those emotions positively with trained people: we are about what you are about.

We listen; we chat; we offer help; we offer ideas of new ways; we help you consider what’s going on in those layers of emotions so that you can, when you want to, find a new way of coping with those strong, real and confusing feelings.

We run a safe place online, called Alumina, where trained people can support you. 

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Alumina Summer Programme - Relationships

Jess talks to us about Relationships

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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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We are family

The blog post below was written by Sophie, a previous Graduate Volunteer with Youthscape. She hopes you find her reflection of what International Day of Families means to her helpful.

When you hear the word ‘family’, who do you think of?

Family can be amazing; family can be where you feel most yourself, most loved. Family can be a great support. On the flip side, family can be complicated, it can be messy, it does not always look perfect and family does not necessarily need to be those you’re directly related to.

Today is International Day of Families, so let’s celebrate those we have in our lives.

For me, family is an interesting one. My parents divorced when I was four and my brother was two. After a while, my dad got married, giving me a step mum, step brother and step sister, but after 13 years, they got divorced. My mum also remarried, so I also gained a step dad and another step sister. When I was nine, my mum and step dad had a daughter together, my little sister. My family has been really dysfunctional at times, there has been a lot of drama, people coming and going, but it’s not been all bad. I know that my parents, my brother, my little sister will always be there for me if I need them and vice versa. Even though I may not always feel like we are that close, and there will be times we don’t see eye to eye, I’ll always love and be there for them.

There are people I consider family, who aren’t related to me at all. I have two childhood friends who are practically like sisters to me yet they live miles away! Then there’s a whole bunch of people I’d call family. This group of people are so much fun to be around. They will always encourage me, lovingly challenge me, and truly want the best for me. They are people who I feel I can be vulnerable around, without the fear of judgement. We all support each other.  I may not see them often, but there’s a deep bond we have, of a shared faith and values. We all have our own interests, talents, quirky ways and struggles, but around these people, I feel totally accepted and loved for who I am.

We may not have the best experiences of family, and family for you may not look the same as it is for someone else, but if you had a ponder now, who would you consider as family?

*Inserts pause for thinking time*

Got those people in mind?

Okay.

Today, let’s make that extra effort to let these people know that we love and appreciate them. Family is an important thing to have, as we all need people around us who we can laugh with, cry with, share our lives with, and feel supported by. We need family and your family needs you!  A lot of the time we can take who we have in our lives for granted, but let’s grab an opportunity today to be thankful for who we do have.

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Blue Monday

The article below was written by Graeme Bigg, a member of the SelfharmUK training team.

Christmas leftovers have been eaten, decorations have been tidied away and presents are either now in use or have been returned for store credit, and you’ve now been back at school or work for over a week.  Some people find it easy to return to the routine of regular life, with all the promise of a new year and a new start, but others can find it much tougher, particularly if there are stressful situations going on from which the holidays offered a all-too-brief break.

The third Monday in January has been labelled as ‘Blue Monday’  - the reasoning being that as the wait for the first pay day since Christmas goes on and the weather gets colder, there is very little to raise the mood.  Indeed, everything from mock exams to presidential inaugurations can add to that existing weight.  So, if you’re feeling glum at the start of 2017, here are a few things that might help:

Blue Monday is made up.  The concept of this being the most depressing day of the year was made up twelve years ago by a travel company[1] – who understandably have a lot to gain by people looking to cheer themselves up by booking a holiday.  Marking out a particular day as ‘the most depressing day in the year’ offers a lot for retailers, who would like you to make comfort purchases, but the meaning behind the day in question is even emptier than November’s Black Friday.  So while the media might play it up, try to remember: Blue Monday is a lie.

January can be depressing.  Although the science behind Blue Monday is rubbish, part of the reason the term persists is because we can see why it might be true.  Punishing New Year’s resolutions that involve depriving ourselves of things we enjoy (our favourite foods, our favourite TV shows), the struggle for funds, the return to our work, going to and returning from school in the dark[2]: all of these can get our mood down.  If you’re struggling with these things, you don’t need to hide them, and because January is a month where people are more aware that life can be hard, you might find it easier to chat about it.  Samaritans are running a campaign this year called ‘Brew Monday’, encouraging people to meet up for a conversation over a cuppa[3].  Whether you’re finding January tough, or actually life is always tough, why not meet up with someone to chat about it.  And if you’re not finding it tough, check in on those around you to see how they are.

New Year, new start.  The tradition of New Year’s resolutions is one I sometimes find a bit daunting, as people ask me what commitments have I made for the next twelve months.  Memories of resolutions that were quickly broken add to the pressure, as does the fear of not making any and what that might say about my character, or thoughts about what ambitious scheme I could set myself.  This year I’ve been reflecting on, when it comes to resolutions, smaller might be better.  A New Year’s resolution is, ultimately, a personal target: it’s for you.  Devising something massive that, when you fail, just crushes you, is not helping you.  Attaching such great value to a resolution that your value becomes wrapped up with it has a similar risk.  You are more than your resolutions; don’t let them define you.  Instead, try to create something that is achievable and fun, something that will build you up rather than knock you down.  I do think making resolutions is a good idea – it helps us focus and be positive – and so I would encourage you to make one (or some) and write them down, so that you can see how you get on  However, they are also not exclusive to New Year’s Eve/Day, so if you do break a resolution, start again.  Make it a year of new starts – however many are needed.

Don’t look back – not yet.  Janus, the Roman god from whom January traditionally takes its name, famously is depicted as having two faces, one looking forwards and one looking backwards.  Because the New Year start in January is an annual occurrence, sometimes we can get tied up remembering Januaries from the past, with their joys and pains.  But this is the first January 2017 we have come across; let’s aim to live this one and not the ones of the past.  We don’t need to ignore of forget the good or (particularly) the bad moments from 2016 and before, but at the start of this new year try to put them to one side and see what this year has.  There will be new conversations, new experiences, the chances to try new activities and make new friends.  It can be good for us to reflect on these new things and the old things together, but leave that for now.  Let’s get this year started first, and see what it has in store.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/blue-monday-the-science-behind-the-most-miserable-day-of-the-year-a6816926.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/jan/16/blue-monday-depressing-day-pseudoscience

[3] http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/our-campaigns/brew-monday

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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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Instagram's Best Kept Secret

What do you think of when you hear the word Instagram? Filters that make your eyes stand out more, blurred edges and something that looks picture perfect, even if the image didn’t start off that way. I don’t know about you, but I can sometimes find social media hard, I become weighed down with seeing images of peoples “perfect” lives and their always happy families. Sometimes, just sometimes I feel like I don’t want to be around that or always be happy. Social media can be great on so many levels and whenever the big bosses of such social media platforms do things that raise awareness around self-harm it is always so positive.

Imagine my delight when I realised the beauty magazine Elle had compiled a piece about an introduction by the CEO of Instagram that allows people to do a few things if they are suffering with or have suffered with self-harm. Instagram already have a heap of tools available, such as deleting and reporting comments as well as blocking and reporting accounts. Now users can go to their settings icon and make a list of words that they find upsetting or triggering and ensure that posts containing those words do not appear in any of their feeds. If you want to know about Facebooks best kept secret, you can...here

Here is a helpful guide to show you the tools I am talking about on Instagram

If you have an Adroid look for this icon in the far right hand corner:

#

If you have an iPhone, look for this icon in the far right hand corner:

#

Hit that button and scroll to settings;

When you are there hit the comments button, you will then see this:

#

From there you can hide all things that are innoproriate or put in your own key words, like this :

#

I will leave you with some words from the CEO of Instagram himself...

"My commitment to you is that we will keep building features that safeguard the community and maintain what makes Instagram a positive and creative place for everyone. To learn more about comments on Instagram, check out help.instagram.com." Kevin Systrom CEO & Co-founder, Instagram (Taken from the post made on Instagram by Kevin System).

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Recovery from Depression in a Spiritual Community

Oliver shares with us some of their own journey around finding peace with their mental health and identity. This is a personal story of transformation and whilst none of this may ring true for you, Oliver challenges us to think about our own recovery and how community and the support of others can bring about the change that we need in our own lives to heal. SelfharmUK is for those from all backgrounds and faith groups, this story is personal and in our sharing of this article our only hope is that you are challenged to find a community that works for you. 

I grew up a pastors’ daughter on the outskirts of Birmingham, attending church religiously, so to speak, every Sunday. I enjoyed running around with my best friend Laura – who was also the daughter of a pastor – as opposed to actually participating in the service, although I did have a handful of favourite hymns which I would frequently request my father to play each week. Another highlight of mine was the continuous handfuls of candy I would convince the elderly churchgoers to give me; I had a particularly convincing smile.

My love of attending church came to an end gradually as I got older. Running around was no longer acceptable and my convincing smile had slowly withered away. I began losing interest and after 10 years of working in the same job my dad resigned as head of the church. We moved out of the vicarage and began attending a different church slightly further away – I still don’t know for certain why we stopped attending our original place of worship, although I have the suspicion tensions were high after we left and perhaps some attendees of the church saw us leaving as giving up on our faith.

As a family we began a new leg of our worship at a church run by very close friends. A new start had sparked my interest once again, however a decline in my mental health had meant that burst of intrigue didn’t last exceptionally long. As depression sank in I started to find every aspect of my life mundane and uninteresting, including spiritually. By this time I was 11 and had stopped attending church altogether. Not particularly long after this I became isolated and also began to self-harm.

Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) took me on as a patient in the year 2012 due to my mums’ persistence to get me medical help – which was predominantly driven by her faith, words of solidarity she took from the Bible, and the network my parents had built up around them over many years of hard work within the Christian community. I received frequent therapy sessions plus plenty of support from friends and family, but their efforts went unnoticed and I continued to deteriorate. My self-harm persisted, I attempted suicide and was starving myself.

After receiving several diagnoses including depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and EDNOS (Eating Disoders Not Otherwise Specified), I was hospitalised on the 29th of May 2013, after being in and out of A&E several times. I vividly remember my mother getting the call the night before, stating that a bed had been made available and that I would be a full-time in patient by the next day.

The 8am drive to the hospital was bleak, literally and emotionally. There was a light drizzle of rain and the fog had begun to stagnate, as if it would never lift. To say there was an air of pathetic fallacy that morning is a gross understatement. Along with the macabre shadow following me around, I too felt an absence of God, in all its forms. An absence of communal support. An absence of faith. These things shaped my childhood and now had dwindled away. It felt as if the life I was living were completely separate from my younger self. All trace of who I used to be had been destroyed in the face of depression, also dragging with it a previously overwhelming sense of trust in my parents and love for my religious community.

Those 8 months in hospital were the centre point of one of the most transformative times in my life, and still today impacts who I am greatly – luckily for me the treatment was a success for the most part and it sculpted me in a positive manner.

I was eventually discharged on the 13th of December 2013, yet there was still a long road of healing ahead. I was put under the home visiting team working for CAMHS who, for the first few weeks, would visit my house each day to not only monitor my weight and blood pressure, but also my scars, if there were any new ones, and how my emotional stability was faring.

No interest in the spiritual life had showed itself again as of yet, for all my energy and time was being spent on merely trying to function once more in a society I had been isolated from for the best part of a year. This remained the case for some time and while a lot of progress was being made in the realm of my mental health, my spiritual health continued to be malnourished and uninspired. (Also during this time I came out as genderqueer, otherwise known by its more socially acceptable term of ‘non-binary’, which also aided in my positive progression with my mental health. I would go into this further but I feel it would best to leave it for its own article).

It wasn’t until the dawn of 2016 that I set about exploring afresh the religious aspect of my life – or lack of, for that matter. This led me to exploring Buddhism more in-depth, and took me to my local Triratna Buddhist centre. Entering the building I felt something which had been absent for most of my life; a spiritual community in which I had a place. A spiritually stimulating community where my gender expression and sexuality did not deem me unworthy, but where my actions and the peace or hatred I contributed to the world defined me. From then on I attended the centre every Thursday evening where groups of up to 60 people would meditate and have discussions on different Buddhist teachings.

I began attending the centre in May this year, and by July I had been discharged from CAMHS after being a patient of theirs for 4 years. The absence of CAMHS threw me off kilter very briefly for a few weeks, which resulted in me taking that time off from the Buddhist centre to fully assess the direction I wanted my religious practice to go in. As I am writing this it is getting towards the end of September and I have been attending the centre again since the beginning of this month and now I can truly see how deprived and dissatisfactory my life is without Buddhism.

I feel I can truly now comprehend the importance of a spiritual or religious community in aiding positive mental states.

On that note I feel it is time to bring this article to a close, but not quite yet. I would like to leave you with a warning not to take my words from a subjective viewpoint and believe I am saying that Buddhism is the only way to connect spiritually. Buddhism is not the only way, and that is definitely not the message I would like people to take from this. We all connect to various communities differently, and what I am trying to project as best I can, is that we should not give up on finding the right place for us if the first one does not work out how we would have liked. There is a place for everyone to find religious inspiration and encouragement, we just have to find it. This is my attempt at motivating you to find it.

Oliver Fitzsimmons, aged 16

Image courtersy of Jubair1985

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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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Black Girls Dont Self-Harm

Self-harm is no laughing matter and having the courage to share your story or admit you need help to family or close friends is difficult for anyone to do … whatever your ethnicity or cultural background.

But from my experience, within the Afro-Caribbean community there is this belief that self-harming, mental health problems and depression are not a ‘black thing’.  Many people in our community believe that only Caucasian people suffer with depression or mental illnesses and it’s this sort of mentality that leads to young black people failing to seek the help and advice they need.

According to The British Journal of Psychiatry black girls are surprisingly more likely to self-harm than white girls, but less likely to receive any type of treatment. Yes you read that right! With shocking facts such as that, it seems bizarre to me that I couldn’t find at least one online platform that offers support to black girls who self-harm.

Now of course, there are many platforms that offer young people support and guidance that black girls can turn to. But they don’t seem to feature how much of a big deal it is for black girls to tell their close family or friends about their problems and try to seek help.

When I was sixteen I use to self-harm, it was brought on by various things that were going on in my life from family issues to my deeply rooted insecurities. I never sought help, firstly because I was scared and because I was always being told that things like depression and mental illness was associated with white people. Eventually my mum saw the scars on my arms and we had a long discussion about depression and how I could actively seek help.

A few years later and my life couldn’t be better! But sometimes I do think about that little insecure black girl who self-harms because she is bullied at school, abused at home or dealing with family problems, who is telling her that it is okay to admit she needs help? Who is helping?

 YES some black girls - and boys - do self-harm and it’s the cultural stigma that is deterring them from seeking help. Please if you are reading this and you are scared to admit you self-harm due to cultural shaming or embarrassment, understand that your family and friends do love you and there are people out there who will take time to listen and help you take the first step towards recovery. Post to our Question page or visit the Information page to get all you need to know, or maybe check out Alumina - our online course that give you the tools to move towards recovery.

Lateefah Jean-Baptiste is a 22 year old media researcher and writer from London. I like to write pieces that can encourage, help and inspire others like me. I am my happiest when I am around loved ones and as we're talking about what frustrates us this month, for me it's people who are unnecessarily rude and angry.     

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Alternate Family

You could say my family is pretty dysfunctional and all over the place, there have been a number of divorces, step siblings have come and gone, and living in two houses can be tiring. But at the end of the day, we are family. However, for me family doesn’t end at this.

During the Easter holiday, I spent a week with a pretty large group of people who I consider to be family. Why family? I’ve never really thought about the ins and outs of why I felt like I was surrounded by family – it just felt like that. So I had quick think and these were the reasons that immediately sprung to mind:

  • Inclusivity and acceptance – Some of us had known each other for years, others were there for the first time and didn’t know anyone. But that didn’t matter, no one was left on their own, everyone was included. It didn’t matter who you were, what you looked like, what you did or where you came from, you were totally accepted for who you are! When I spoke to a number of people who had come along for the first time, they all mentioned how everyone was so welcoming and how comfortable they felt.
     
  • Something shared – In all of our families, there may be certain values/beliefs/interests that are shared, and with this group of people, we all shared the same faith. It brought us together and created such a special family feel.
     
  • People who care and help you – I was surrounded by people who really cared about each other and genuinely wanted to get to know you more. Some of these people have helped me through a lot and continue to – I can’t explain how much they’ve lovingly challenged me, helped me grow, and have encouraged me.
     
  • You don’t have to hide how you feel – As these people genuinely care about how you’re doing, they don’t want you to put a mask on and pretend everything is okay if it isn’t. There is no shame in having a big cry around this lot!
     
  • You don’t have to see them all the time but still have that connection – This group of people are from all over the country and many of us won’t see each other for months at a time, but whenever we do, things are still the same. That’s the thing with family, it doesn’t matter where you are or how often you see each other, you still have that bond!

So I suppose that’s why this great bunch of people feel like family to me, being amongst them just feels like home!

Family doesn’t have to stop at who you live with, or who you are related to.

Who do you consider family?

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Making Time For Me

It has taken me a while to find the time to sit down and write this …that sums up who I am now.

I love to be busy all the time but I really treasure the moments when I can sit quietly or get some stuff done for me. It’s another kind of achievement, one I know I need to factor in to my week, but it hasn’t always been this way.

Being busy is something I get from my family and something that I now love. However, when I was younger, I used being busy to not let myself have time to think. I didn’t like the idea of being alone with my own thoughts; it’s a strange feeling being scared of yourself.

The problem was that I didn’t leave myself time to process, things would build up and I would need to find a release.  As with finding time to write this, it would take me a while to be able to tell anyone how I was feeling or to find the words to explain it. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful, strong, caring family, but I could not bring myself to admit that I was feeling this way or doing something that I knew deep-down wasn’t really a solution.

For me, self-harm was a quick way to release the very physical feeling of stress that I felt but it was always followed, by an equally horrible feeling of guilt. Guilt because I couldn’t pinpoint why I felt this way and therefore felt I had no right to. And guilt at how it would make those who loved me feel when they found out. For a long time I hid the results but not talking about it would make the feeling worse and kept me stuck in the cycle. I had to speak to someone and for me that person was my mum.

Yes I could see that it upset her, of course it would, but when I wasn’t able to see a solution, she was able to be rational, to talk me through it and offer a solution even if I couldn’t identify the exact reasons. When I panicked about leaving the house in the morning for school, often turning it in to frustrated anger directed at her, she would sit with me to help me feel calm and ready to face the world. She didn’t force me to stop or force me to talk to anyone else. She helped me make my own decisions and find other ways to deal with life’s challenges.

I don’t say thank you to her enough. I am lucky to have this support base and while I have learnt to leave my guilt, my only regret is not to speaking about it sooner. I am not perfect now, sometimes I still struggle, but instead of being scared of myself, I talk to my family. That may be my parents or sister, or the family I have made myself in my friends and my boyfriend. Now I enjoy opportunities to be with myself; I believe we all need that time in order to appreciate the other moments in life, especially those with the people who care about us.

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