Self harm is often a silent battle, but one day in March is committed to raising awareness and shining light on the issue.
March 1 is Self Harm Awareness Day, a nationally-recognized day dedicated to learning about and understanding self injury behaviors and offering resources to those still struggling with harmful tendencies.
Self harm is considered a behavioral change, an impulsive act of cutting or carving that is associated with premeditated thoughts and negative feelings, according to HelpGuide.org. It can be seen as an emotional rollercoaster of shame, guilt and self deprivation followed by relief and emotional release.
“One thing for us to remember about any sort of behavior change is that it is often difficult, especially at first,” Justin Wheeler, a clinical social worker and therapist, said in an email. “Showing care toward oneself and seeking supportive people during the process of change is important.”
The act of self injury can be seen as a vicious and seemingly never-ending cycle that starts and ends with injury to oneself. After the self-injurious act is performed, the individual will often feel shame or guilt, resulting in significant distress, which leads them to self injury once again.
“You truly have to check yourself and make a conscientious decision that you aren’t going to self harm every single day,” Devon Hannan, an Ohio University alumna and survivor of self harm, said in an email.
In society there is a heavy stigma around self harm and mental illness in general. Although reaching out and discussing one's struggles and trauma is becoming easier and more acceptable to do, there are still extremely internalized misconceptions toward self injury.
One of the most common of these misconceptions is the idea that those who struggle with it are simply “seeking attention.” Wheeler said it is possible for self harm to be a means of communicating distress, but it is most often a silent and dangerous way to cope.
“Writing behavior off as ‘attention-seeking’ can lead us to miss important information about their experience that would better help us support someone who is struggling,” Wheeler said in an email. “Not to mention, it feels enormously painful and invaliding for someone who self-injures to hear their behavior described in this manner when they may already carry shame or guilt about it.”
Those who self harm are in need of support, and there are many ways to fulfill this need. Self injury can show up in various forms such as, but not limited to, cutting, burning, punching, scratching, hitting and poisoning oneself.
To many, noticing warning signs is a key step in eradicating self injury, according to HelpGuide.org. Some of these telltale signs are easy to notice if one knows what to look for. When a person's behavior starts to drastically change, it might be time to take a closer look: they might be silently asking for help. Isolation and avoiding social situations are two of the biggest signs to watch for.
The cycle of self harm and living with mental illness in general can be dangerously hard to live with. At times, it may seem impossible to get out of the darkness of one’s brain, but it is possible. Recovery is possible. There are endless resources and support systems that anyone can utilize.
“Raising awareness and providing resources such as support groups and allowing visibility around the issue would help support people around us,” Natalie Matesic, a senior studying English literature and writing, said. “We need to help people suffering from self harm and give them the power of feeling like they’re not alone and within a community.”
There are many ways people can reach out to those they believe are at risk of self harm. This could include not judging or offering ultimatums to those struggling with self injury. Instead, one can listen to them, give them love and support and offer to assist them in getting help.
“The best way to learn more about self-injury is to seek to understand the experiences of those affected by it,” Wheeler said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with self harm or suicidal thoughts, you can reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Other resources for those concerned about self harm and suicide include Ohio University’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services and campus organizations such as Active Minds.