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Five Unhelpful Things You Should Avoid Doing When You Meet Someone That Self-Harms

Five Unhelpful Things You Should Avoid Doing When You Meet Someone That Self-Harms

The anonymous author of this article is a person in the recovery of Major Depressive Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. The views of the author are not those of Promises. 

I have struggled with Self-Harm since I was a kid. Most of us are aware of the tantrum’s kids put up when they are upset. They hit others, drop to the floor, scream, and cry. When I felt overwhelmed by certain emotions, in particular anger or sadness, I would use my hands to hit my head. I had trouble identifying and regulating my emotions. My primary school counsellor told me that I have anger management challenges when I shared with her how I find myself unable to control my anger and would hit myself or the well. Little did I know that these behaviours were early signs and symptoms to what would become a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder given to me in my 20s.

When the word ‘Self-Harm’ is mentioned, most people think about ‘cutting’. A very common and increasingly concerning the mode of coping for persons in distress, more so for young people, even children. Fortunately, I never turned to ‘cutting’ until I was 23. I was actively suicidal from the stress of battling my illness while also trying to excel in my degree. I began with a penknife and one cut. Soon, that one cut led to many and I found myself with a new problem.

I struggle with Self-Harm till this very day; however, I have come a long way with the help of medications and therapy to reduce the frequency of Self-Harm. I have been trying to replace Self-Harm with healthier coping methods such as exercise. 

When I do not wear long sleeves, I end up exposing the scars on my wrists to the world. Generally, I tend to feel ashamed of my scars and it took me some time to embrace them. However, responses from others who have noticed my scars have caused discouragement to me and led me to feel ashamed once again. Ironically, this does not deter me from ‘cutting’; instead, it increases the urge because I develop self-hatred and feel like I deserve to be punished and scarred for my behaviour.

Through this sharing of my experience, I hope to send a message of love to peers who are challenged with Self-Harm, whatever form it might take on. I also want to raise awareness among members of the public on what were some unhelpful words and behaviours people have made towards me, more so out of a lack of awareness rather than a lack of concern. I have learnt to forgive them, and at times have also made the effort to voice my discomfort over their words and actions. Here are five things people have said or done to me that were completely unhelpful, and very likely also to be unhelpful to anyone else challenged with Self-Harm.

1. Touching me without permission
I get it, you notice the scars and you get worried. Without thinking, you grab my arm and go “what is this? Did you cut yourself?”. Leaving the question for later, the very act of grabbing my arm to look at my scars without permission is a big ‘NO’. I am hypersensitive to my scars and it takes much courage for me, even till today, to deliberately lift my arm to show my scars. What may surprise you is that, often, this act comes largely from my own parents and also the professionals I see for help. It is good practice to always ask someone for permission if you wish to touch them, even if it means to give a hug. Because some of us who have challenges with trauma and dissociation are hypersensitive to touch. Hence, do be mindful of those around you and remember: If you do not like people grabbing you to see something (on you), it’s the same and perhaps even more, for those of us learning to accept our scars.

 

2. “Doesn’t it hurt?”
No, it doesn’t. This answer may come as a surprise to many, but when I am under extreme stress and emotional distress, the act of physically inflicting hurt on myself gives me relief. The greater the physical “pain” the greater the relief. For me, this goes for any act of self-harm be it ‘cutting’, punching the wall, or knocking my head against the wall until it starts bleeding. I can only compare this to someone who meets with an accident. The body goes into shock to the point the person may have a broken leg; however, he or she is not feeling any pain. I do not have a formal education in psychology or biology, but I believe my brain “shuts down” the part that feels pain which aids me to self-harm without feeling the actual pain.

 

3. “The scars are so ugly! Why do you enjoy this? Can’t you stop?”
This is a three-part question, but it often comes to me in one line of questioning. First, I want to say that I do not enjoy this. Not at all. I would love to have clear and beautiful skin too. Every time I look down at my arm to see the scars, I feel hatred towards myself. “How could I do this to myself? I am a horrible person”. And yet, I find that I cannot stop. A coping method I have turned to, since childhood, to cope with the traumatic experiences and intense emotions is self-harm. It has become the default and almost automatic ‘subconscious’ act whenever I am in distress.

 

4. “It doesn’t look too bad”
I know that this statement is in direct contrast to the one above. But I have had this said to me by peers and sadly, professionals. There is not much need for me to elaborate on this statement as it is obvious that it is unhelpful. This statement makes me feel like a failure and makes me want to hurt myself even more. The ‘Depression voice’ is always on standby, ready to jump in with a “See, you are useless at even trying to hurt yourself? You call that a cut?! You are a coward. Go and do it again”.

 

5. Taking away or hide the sharp items that I could use to hurt myself
This is probably most relatable to parents and caregivers supporting someone who is challenged with self-harm. It is very natural to become protective and do what it takes to stop your loved one from hurting themselves. “If I take away their means to hurt themselves, then they have no choice but to stop, right?” Unless you tag along with your loved one 24/7, it is very easy to drop by the nearest bookstore to buy a new penknife. More importantly, in doing so, you are taking away the one thing that I have which keeps me from jumping out of my window or overdosing on my pills. Until I learn to safely stop self-harming in therapy, to take it away from me by force, will throw me into an emotional turmoil that will only make me feel worse.

So please, next time you notice someone with scars that look like they might be from the act of cutting one-self, please be gentle and kind to the person. Be extremely mindful of what you say. Perhaps, a guiding thought could be: If you cannot entertain the idea of causing pain to yourself, imagine how much pain the person must be in to be able to cause harm to themselves. When I self-harm, it is a desperate means for me to stay alive. It is a cry for help: for attention, for love, care and non-judgemental support.

If you know a loved one who self harms please do gently prod him/her towards seeking help from a trained professional.


Photo by Chaozzy Lin on Unsplash

Myth Busting Teen Mental Health – Self-Harm

Debunking myths about adolescent mental healthviolence-self-harm

Although society has made some headway in reducing the stigma and misinformation about general mental health issues, the public’s understanding of self-harm remains decades behind. Let’s debunk some common myths about adolescent self-harm.

Myth: ‘Self-harm means cutting right? Only emos and goths do that.’

Self-harm refers to a range of behaviours that are purposely inflicted to cause damage to the body. It can include cutting, but also refers to scratching, picking at wounds, burning, pinching, hitting, head banging, and minor overdosing. Self-harm can also be in the form of excessive risk-taking that is above and beyond typical adolescent risk-taking.

It is a misconception that only ’emos’ and ‘goths’ self-harm. Although self-harm can be part of adolescent subculture experimentation, it is more often a sign that a teenager is experiencing unmanageable distress. Self-harm becomes a way of coping with distress that provides temporary relief from emotional pain.

Myth: ‘Self-harm is all about attention-seeking. If a person was really depressed enough to cut themselves then they would probably just commit suicide.’

Self-harm is not about attention-seeking. It is often a secretive and private behaviour. For a teenager, self-harm is a way of coping with unmanageable distress, and can be a medium to communicate that distress to others. Self-harm should never be dismissed as attention-seeking.

A person who cuts themselves is not necessarily suicidal. Cutting behaviour can be suicidal, non-suicidal, or a mix of both. It is important to remember that suicide risk is not static. A teenager who displays non-suicidal self-harm can become suicidal at another point in time.

Any teen who self-harms should undergo a thorough and comprehensive suicide risk assessment by a registered mental health professional. Their suicide risk should be closely monitored and assessed at regular intervals.

Myth: ‘I can punish my teen so that they stop self-harming. That will solve the problem.’

Punishing a teen for self-harming does not solve the problem. Cutting is a symptom of a deeper issue – unmanageable distress. Stopping the cutting via punishment may actually worsen their distress, especially if the teen lacks healthy and effective coping strategies.

Here are some suggestions for what you can do instead of punishing your teen:

  • Be an active listener
  • Validating their feelings
  • Be emotionally and physically present for them
  • Engage in joint problem solving

Always seek advice from a registered child psychologist if you suspect that your teen may be self-harming.

Written by Leeran Gold, Psychologist in our Forensic Service.

At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery. Discover a new life and find renewed hope. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please contact our clinic for inquiries and consultations.

For after-hours crisis support contact your local mental health service or emergency services.

In Singapore: IMH 24-hour helpline +65 6389 2222, Ambulance 995.

Myth Busting Mental Health – Youth Suicide

Myth Busting Mental Health – Youth Suicide

youth-suicideLet’s take a look at some common mental health myths about youth suicide and set the record straight.

Attempted suicides are just a cry for attention.

A suicide attempt should never be dismissed as ‘just a cry for attention’. A young person is highlighting that their level of internal distress is unmanageable and unbearable. They need help, not judgement. A young person can feel even more isolated and misunderstood if those around them fail to take their actions seriously. Never ignore or minimise suicidal behaviours and seek professional help as soon as possible.

Teens who cut their wrists must be suicidal.

Cutting is a form of self-injury that can either be suicidal or non-suicidal. In both cases, the cutting is a sign that a young person is not managing their internal distress in a healthy way. Any young person who self-injures should undergo a full suicide risk assessment by a registered mental health professional.

If I ask a young person whether they are feeling suicidal, it might put the idea in their head.

This is a particularly dangerous myth as it discourages discussion of the issue at hand. Talking about suicidal feelings will not encourage a young person to commit suicide. When having the conversation try to stay calm and non-confrontational. Remain open and genuine, and remember the overall message – it is ok to talk about feelings, and there is help available. Show that you care and avoid judging the young person. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about having the conversation, get in touch with a mental health professional for some tips and guidance.

Written by Leeran Gold, Psychologist in our Forensic Service.

At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery. Discover a new life, away from addiction and find renewed hope. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please contact us today for inquiries and consultations.

For after-hours crisis support contact your local mental health service or emergency services.

In Singapore: IMH 24-hour helpline +65 6389 2222, Ambulance 995.

Self-Harm Series – Part 3 –

Self-Harm Series – Part 3 –

What can I do to help my teen?
In addition to regular professional mental health support, here are some things you can do to help your teen:
– Show that you care
– Be non-judgmental
– Accept your teen’s feelings
– Suggest distractions
– Learn basic first aid
– Encourage them to communicate their feelings
– Ensure an authoritative balance in your parenting style

Avoid:
– Guilt trips
– Punishing your teen for self-harm

What can the school do to support my teen?
Ask to see your school’s policy on self-harm management. If your school does not have a policy, get in touch with your treating psychologist who can provide the school with resources and psycho-education. Make sure the school counselor sees your teen regularly, and that they are aware of any safety and risk issues.

If you suspect that your teen is self-harming, seek professional help as soon as possible. Contact Promises Healthcare for a confidential enquiry today.

If your teen is in any danger, contact your local ambulance service on 995. You can contact the Institute for Mental Health 24-hour hotline on 6389-2222.

This is part 3, of a series of 3 posts        Click here for Part 1     Click here for Part 2

Written by: Leeran Gold – Psychologist, Forensic Services, Promises Healthcare

Self-Harm Series – Part 2 –

Self-Harm Series – Part 2 –

Self-Harm

How do I know if my teen is self-harming?
Self-harming is usually a very private and secretive behavior. Teens may self-harm on areas of their bodies that are difficult to see. In some cases, teens may self-harm in more obvious areas including their wrists, ankles, arms and legs.
If you notice dressing or bandages, or cuts, bruises, burns and/or marks in these areas, your teen may be self-harming.
Other signs can include withdrawing from friends and family, excessive moodiness, increased irritability and anger outbursts, and changes in appetite and body weight.

Why is my teen self-harming?
Teens may self-harm in order to cope with stress. Self-harm can temporarily numb or relieve their distress, and can be a way of communicating their distress to others. Teens who self-harm often lack healthy coping strategies and feel helpless in managing their distress.

If your teen is self-harming, or you suspect that they are, seek professional help and contact Promises Healthcare for a confidential enquiry as soon as possible.

If your teen is in any danger, you can contact your local ambulance service on 995. You can contact the Institute for Mental Health 24-hour hotline on 6389-2222.

This is part 2, of a series of 3 posts         Click here for Part 1 

Written by: Leeran Gold – Psychologist, Forensic Services, Promises Healthcare