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If in doubt always call 999.
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.