March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, also known as Self-Injury Awareness Month. It is an observance that is observed in the United States, Canada and western Europe. It is promoted by various organizations, including Sharpen, to raise the public's awareness about self-harm. Unfortunately, the problem is more common than most realize: 15% of teenagers will experience some form of self-injury, though it drops to 4% among adults. This is no minor matter, which is why Self-Harm Awareness Month is important. By improving people's understanding of the condition, the stigma towards self-injury can be decreased and more can be equipped with the knowledge needed to make a difference. At its core, it’s about helping those affected by self-harm get the help they need.
Signs of Self-Harm
Self-harm affects all genders, races, lifestyles and age groups. Family and friends, particularly those with loved ones experiencing mental illness, must note to look out for signs and patterns of self-injury such as:
Consistent signs of injury on arms, legs or other areas of the body. Signs include bruises, cuts, scabs, and burns.
Overdressing or covering, especially in warm weather or inappropriate climate, wearing items like coats or long sleeve shirts or pants.
Repeatedly making excuses for the injuries.
Withdrawal, avoidance or isolation from relationships and activities they previously enjoyed.
How to Help
The first step is addressing the stigma facing those who self-harm. Shame and stigma are obstacles that prevent the affected from getting the assistance they need. Labeling those who self-harm as attention seekers is one of the most counterproductive and harmful stereotypes, as this only alienates and isolates them further as family and friends either deny the problem or downplay its severity.
Here are other ways to help those who self-injure:
Do not show disgust or anger as negativity and ultimatums only alienate the affected person, driving them away and making it even harder to help them.
Do not deny the problem, they're not seeking attention or in a phase that they'll grow out of.
Do not hide sharp objects, they will just find a way.
Do not base the severity of their emotional pain on the degree of injury. Severely depressed people might have only scratches rather than cuts.
Do not assume that people are fine once they are in treatment as recovery from self-harm can be a prolonged process.
Instead, friends and family can:
Stay calm, since yelling, getting angry and freaking out won't help but will just make communication even harder.
Talk in non-judgmental and supportive ways.
Take the problem seriously. Do not disregard it as attention-seeking or as an adolescent phase.
Seek treatment, don't hide or bury it. Accompany the affected person to the doctor or counselor but don't treat it as a shameful matter to be kept secret.
Try to find the triggers, the underlying problems, rather than just the injury.
Maintain trust, as the self-harm doesn't represent the entire person, just a small part of them.
On our end, Sharpen provides parties with a repository or information and resources to help them in their efforts to address self harm and other mental issues (which are often interconnected). And as Self-Harm Awareness Month shows, we are all in this together. Our efforts build up, complementing and supplementing each other. Because to effectively address this issue, raise awareness and diminish the shame and stigma faced by those dealing with self-harm, we must all collectively build connections and work to bring about change and improvement.