By: Sarah Robinson
March 1st for some is just a regular day, a start to a new month, maybe a start to a new beginning, a spring renewal. For others, it is a day to bring awareness, a day where individuals do not feel so alone and invisible, a day where anyone who has ever felt like they need to suffer in silence can finally have a voice to say, “this is what self-harm looks like and this is why I self-harm, but today I chose to not suffer alone.” March 1st kicks off self-harm awareness month, a time where anyone who knows a loved one, friend, or even stranger who engages or has engaged in self-harm will hopefully educate themselves, learn how to be empathetic, a warm safe place, and an advocate for those who feel like they cannot advocate for themselves.
Why awareness is important for the NSSI Community:
Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is the intentional self-inflicted destruction of body tissue without suicidal intention. According to the American Psychological Association, a study across 40 countries found that about 17% of all people will self-harm during their lifetime and about 50% of those people seek help for their self-harm but only from friends and loved ones instead of from a professional. This statistic alone is proof of why it is so important for family and friends to educate themselves since they are usually the first line of defense and if they are not prepared then their responses could be even more damaging. Self-harm does not have a specific face, gender, race, or sexuality. Self-harm can present itself in any religion, country, household, or social media platform and does not necessarily look the same for everyone. For these reasons it is essential, not only during this month of March but every day to be aware of what NSSI looks like, which could be cutting, burning, punching, pulling hair, or choking. It is also essential to discuss what is the best way to communicate when a person is having a difficult time regulating their emotions or having urges to self-harm. One study from the center of suicide research reported that when they spoke to nearly 40 parents and caregivers of young people who self-harmed, they overwhelmingly mentioned feeling alone and wishing that they had more knowledge about self-harm, its causes, and its impact on the family. Parents mentioned that they would like to have a source of information from a trustworthy source that spoke about topics that were important to them, including practical topics such as managing wounds and scars, and advice on how to best support their child who is self-harming. Self-harm can be difficult to understand and due to this, many people react in a damaging or judgmental way. Raising awareness about self-harm is extremely important as it leads to eliminating stigma, community awareness, and empathy, and reducing the number of individuals who are suffering in silence.
What self-harm awareness month provides:
1. People who self-harm need to see that others care Self-harm Awareness Day is about showing people who self-harm that they are not alone and there is a community out there waiting to hear their story. It is important for people to let others know that self-harm is not taboo and is not an act that deserves punishment or negative judgments. It is important for others to see that their pain is being acknowledged but also, we can provide alternatives or a safe place for them to share their emotions which is the main reason why people self-harm in the first place because they are unable to communicate their pain in any other way. This month helps us show them that there are people who support them and who they can rely on whenever they need an advocate or just someone to listen.
2. It erases the “attention-seeking” stigma and stereotypes around self-harm There are many stereotypes about self-injury that further worsen the case for people who self-harm such as the behavior is attention-seeking which is furthest from the truth. Most of the time when speaking to parents or loved ones, their first comment is “I just do not understand why they would do this to themselves or me. Don’t they know they are hurting me when they hurt themselves?” or “They just want attention and are trying to manipulate me.” Comments like these increase the stigma, taboo, and the need for people who self-harm to be invisible and not talk about it due to the overwhelming guilt and shame they feel. Self-harm Awareness Day helps to prevent that stigma from growing by helping others learn and understand why people self-harm, how to cope with their own misconceptions, emotions, and thoughts surrounding that self-harm, and what to do step by step when someone close to them engages in it.
3. It connects people to real support and communities Many people have found helping hands to hold on Self-harm Awareness Day. People who self-harm can find communities that they can connect with and draw support from not only during this month but going forward in their journeys. They can also find professionals who can help them with their struggles and guide them towards safer ways to cope. The most important fact is that we need to talk about self-harm because it is not going away, and the more we pretend it is not an issue, the more people must suffer alone. The more we talk about it the more support, networking, and creditable lifelines are created for this community. The biggest reason why people continue to self-harm is that they do not think they have any other option and it is their only way to communicate their emotions and pain, when we talk and educate one other, we provide them with more options.
How to show support during self-harm awareness month:
1. Wearing the national ribbon for self-harm: You can add an orange ribbon to your outfit or around your wrist, to show your support for the cause and signify that you are a safe person for them to talk to.
2. To Write Love on Her Arms is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery. You can participate by writing the word “LOVE” on your arm to show support and provide hope.
3. The Butterfly Project encourages people to draw a butterfly on their wrist. If they are actively self-harming, then they name the butterfly after someone they love and look at it whenever they feel the urge to cut. If the person cuts, they kill the butterfly. If the butterfly wears away before the person hurts themself, the butterfly lives. For loved ones of people who self-harm drawing a butterfly shows support and empathy.
4. Check up on a friend: Use Self-harm Awareness Day to check up on a friend who might be struggling. Remind them that you are there for them and act as a support system for them. Share their posts on your social media platforms or post something on social media with their consent showing your support.
5. Speak to a professional: Even though people who self-harm often need friends and support systems that they can rely on, it is important for them to also seek help from a certified professional. If you or someone you know frequently engages in cutting or other self-harm practices, please encourage them to talk to a mental health professional who can help them gain control without harming themselves.
Resources for support and education: https://nationaltoday.com/self-injury-awareness-day/ https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Self-harm https://twloha.com/find-help/help-by-topic/self-injury/ https://www.adolescentselfinjuryfoundation.com/