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Dedicated to self-harm recovery, insight and support.

Do only Girls Self-harm?

In my job, I will often come across people who believe this myth that only girls self-harm. It’s not just one group of people either- there are patients, relatives and members of the public who all buy into this misbelief.

There is already a big stigma around self-harm, which I think is mainly because of the lack of understanding about it. But there is a further stigma around the idea that men, in all our macho-manliness, could possibly use self-harm as a way of coping with the distress and emotional pain that they are feeling. Not only is this myth unhelpful to the millions of men who are suffering with mental illness around the world, it lends to a further misconception that it is less acceptable for a man to be vulnerable than a woman. But the reality is that mental illness does not discriminate- male or female, old or young, rich or poor- anybody can become ill at any point in their life. Luckily, there are some great treatments available that can help people to recover and get their lives back. But if men are made to feel that they can’t show their emotions like women can, how can we hope to support their recovery? I myself went through many years of mental illness when I was a teenager, and I was always worried about how talking about my feelings might make me ‘less manly’ in some way. In reality, I now believe that being able to talk about your emotions and be vulnerable can be very empowering, and is a completely normal and human experience. Now as a mental health professional, I see that guys who can cast aside the effort to be macho and instead look at how their illness is affecting their lives often make the most progress in their recovery.

Statistics will often say that more girls self-harm than boys, but I personally think this is untrue. I think it’s true that guys and girls self-harm in different ways, for example girls may cut themselves whereas boys may drink and use drugs dangerously. Both are harmful ways of coping with mental illness and both are forms of self-harm, but it is likely that cutting would be widely recognised in statistics whereas substance abuse may not be. And because of the stigma making men feel less able to tell their stories than women, much fewer men come forward to talk about their experiences of self-harm. So although statistics can be really helpful a lot of the time, the figures for the difference between men and women might not be totally true!

So what can we do to break down the walls of this myth? Simply, we can all encourage each other to be open and honest about our experiences of self-harm and mental illness. This site is so great because it breaks down those walls, and allows people to share what they’ve been through to help more people recover. Let’s all make a special effort to help the guys in our lives- friends, brothers, cousins- feel comfortable talking about their mental health and any experiences of self-harm that they may be going through. Big or small, everything that we share will help to make men feel less bothered about society’s idea of how men should be and will make a huge difference to their recovery.

And remember, self-harm is not a sign of weakness. Beating self-harm and recovering from mental illness is a sign of huge strength.

Sam is 20 and currently training to be a mental health nurse. He is passionate about using his own experiences of mental health to be the best nurse he can be and to help people recover and change their lives. He loves cooking, going for walks with his family, going to church and spending time with friends.

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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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What Myths are Holding You Back?

We all believe things that other people tell us. Remember the time your mum told you to eat your carrots because they will make your eyes better? And the day your best mate joked that if you swallowed an apple seed a tree would grow inside of you? What about the bus ride home your older sibling said they had swallowed chewing gum and it was going to stay inside of them for seven years?

We believe people and we evaluate our choices based upon previous responses and personal beliefs.

During the years that I self harmed in Secondary School it was much easier to hide or lie about the marks on my arm instead of having to explain the complicated feelings that were dominating 90% of my waking thoughts. I didn’t feel loved or valued enough and I feared that if people knew they would love and value me even less. As much as I desperately wanted my friends to help me and advise me, wearing a jumper or twenty bracelets on my forearm was the easier option. To not self-harm was to be normal and that’s what I was trying to put across with all my might. 

I built up these myths in my head, I told them to myself daily to make sure the secret wouldn’t come out and the whole class didn’t think I was crazy.

“If you tell them, they won’t be your friend.”

“If you tell them, you will lose your value.”

“If you tell them, they will think you are crazy.”

My inner commentary was stuck on repeat.

I didn’t want to forfeit being loved by telling my friends about a few cuts on my arm. It didn’t seem worth it.

As I’ve been recovering over the last few years I have realised the importance of honesty. I have learnt that true friends will love you and value you for who you are. Even if you are in your lowest place, friends will be the people who pick you up, encourage you and set you back on the path. When you’ve relapsed for the third time in one week, friends are the ones who will give you a positive text, a smile and a hug. Real friends will be there for you no matter what the myths are that you tell yourself.

Self-harming does not make you any less of a person or any less worthy of being on this earth. It’s okay to be scared, talking about self harm isn’t like talking about any other injury, it has deep emotions attached to it. Our lives are fragile and it’s okay to struggle with showing the true you for fear of shame or embarrassment.

I challenge you to think about some of the myths you have built up. What’s holding you back? What do you fear most? What myth about sharing what you’re going through has controlled you for too long?

You matter, you are important. No myth you tell yourself about what others may think of you can take your value away. Recovery is done in community and you deserve friends to walk beside you, encouraging you and teaching you your true worth. 

Caitlin loves the seaside, loves community and is passionate about using her experiences of mental health to encourage and help others. She is currently living in lovely Brighton studying for a degree in International Development and Anthropology, however, spends most of her time eating cake, helping out at church and blogging. You can find her at caitlinfaithcollins.wordpress.com or touring the coffee shops of Brighton.

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Self Harm Awareness Day 2016

Today, March 1st, is National Self Harm Awareness Day, and during this month, we will continue to focus on this awareness.

Self harm can affect anyone - any age, gender, race, culture, religion. We all probably know of someone who self harms, and it seems to be becoming increasingly common. But with this comes misunderstanding. There has certainly been more awareness of self harm in recent years, but this still hasn’t stamped out the stigma of it and misconceptions people have of it.

Therefore, this month, we at SelfharmUK are going to be focused on busting some of the myths surrounding self harm.

Some of these myths and misconceptions might be:

- It’s only teenagers who self harm
- People who self harm are attention seeking
- Only girls self harm
- Self harm only involves cutting
- Self harm is easy to stop
- Self harm is a suicide attempt
- Anyone who self injures is crazy and should be locked up
- Self harm is a phase and something you just grow out of
- People only self harm if they’ve had a really bad life

This year we have teamed up with Childline, The Mix and YoungMinds again, to research and gather information from almost 1000 parents of children/young people up to the age of 24, as well as 3800 young people up to the age of 24 who self harm.

This research showed that 67% of parents believe that young people struggling with self harm should go to them for support, whereas only 16% of young people who self harm would choose to talk to their parents, and only 27% would talk to their doctor. It was found that instead, young people would rather turn to their friends (61%) or online (76%) to find support.

Research also found that 39% of parents thought one of the main reasons a young person engages in self harm was for ‘seeking attention’, whereas 80% of young people expressed they did not want other people thinking that they were attention seeking when asked what they wanted people to know about self harm.

This just highlights the gap in understanding around self harm. These won’t be the only unbalanced percentages when it comes to those who self harm and those who don’t. There is clearly a difference between what others think compared to what those who struggle actually think, which gives us all the more reason to bust a myth and offer an insight into the subject of self harm.

It can become very hard to open up about the struggles of self harm when there are all of these myths and misconceptions out there, and although awareness is growing, perceptions still need to change.

Throughout this month, we will also be sharing people’s experiences with self harm, and how myths around self harm have affected them in their journey. We will also be providing helpful information around areas such as triggers, alternatives, and finding the courage speaking up about self harm, whether that be to a parent, GP, friend or person you look up to, and vice versa, the best ways to respond to a young person telling you they self harm.

Telling someone you are self harming can be a very daunting thing, but the good news is, even with these myths and misconceptions out there, there are still people who want to help, regardless of what they understand about self harm. You are not alone in this. Maybe, on this day, you could make the decision to take that first step and reach out for the support you deserve! Maybe raise awareness by starting a conversation with someone about self harm. Maybe encourage someone you know who is struggling to find the help they need. Let's continue to break the silence surrounding self harm!

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