It breaks my heart every time I meet a girl who is cutting, punching walls, banging her head, scratching or burning her skin, poisoning, overdosing or even pulling out her own hair. Self-harm itself is not an illness. Nor is it just attention-seeking. While some girls who self-harm may have a mental illness, or another medical condition, self-harm is actually a behaviour, something people choose to do when they are in distress! But it can become addictive, just like alcohol or drug addictions, or an eating disorder.
Some girls make the choice to hurt themselves simply because their friends did it. Maybe they thought, “That’s how my friends cope, so it might help me,” (not a good habit to learn from your friends is it?). Many teenage girls actually end up in hospital because they’ve hurt themselves so badly or self-harmed so often. Others end up having to have serious operations later in life to repair the damage scarring is causing.
Self-harm always needs to be taken very seriously because it can cause dangerous health issues and, in serious cases, even death. But it is not the best way to cope with how hard or dark your life feels. In fact, it’s not coping at all!
I have come across girls who think self-harming is the only way they can deal with a difficult situation. Let me give you an example. A girl might break-up with her boyfriend, get overwhelmed by the emotional pain of that break-up and so choose to harm herself to communicate how distressed she feels. The problem is, not only does that girl have to deal with the break-up, but now she has to deal with the fact that she has injured herself too. The physical pain WON’T make the emotional pain go away! Even though our problems can seem SO BIG in the moment, with a little time, and a lot of support from friends and caring people, the pain WILL go away.
One of the things we can all forget ‘in the moment’ of really hurting inside, is that we can always ask for help! It’s OK to ask someone to help you if you don’t feel like you can cope with your problems. And it’s OK to get help for someone you’re worried about too. If you have a friend who is self-harming you should definitely encourage them to get some help from a teacher, chaplain, nurse, parent or youth leader. Maybe go along with them to support them. It’s not OK to just ignore it, because people who self-harm need some help to cope better. They need to feel safe, loved and understood. They need to know they are NOT ALONE!
If you would like to help your friends, find out more about “To write love on her arms”. TWLOHA is an organisation that each year encourages people to write the word ‘LOVE’ on their arms to remind us all that we need to be more supportive for our friends who are finding life too complicated to cope.
Photo By Michael Thompson