Today Is Self-Injury Awareness Day and It's Not Enough

Self-injury is a coping mechanism - it's not usually done for the reasons many assume. Self-injury is usually a very private act performed just to help the person 'wake up' or 'quieten down' so they can get on with their day.

Raising awareness isn't enough, on its own. It has to lead to greater understanding and reduced stigma.

A day isn't enough, on its own. We need sustained efforts to reach those people who feel alone, truly alone, in their self-injury. People of all ages who've never heard the terms 'self-injury' and 'self-harm' and assume only they could be damaged enough to damage themselves.

That was me as a teen. I had no words for what I was doing to myself, I had to assume I was the only person in the world like this, and so there was just no point telling anyone. Everyone joked about everything, nothing was taken seriously. I was a lad who burnt and branded and cut himself, and guys weren't supposed to be so weirdly emotional.

Back then, I only knew that I needed to sleep, that I needed my endlessly cycling thoughts and regrets to quieten down. I just wanted to not think about what was going on in my so-called family. I just wanted inner peace, and hurting myself brought a clarity to my mind. Hurting myself physically quietened the emotional turmoil.

I wasn't diagnosed with depression and anxiety until I was a young adult, when I took responsibility for my health and sought out help and support.

Now with the LifeSIGNS organisation and SIAD - Self-Injury Awareness Day - I help provide information for people who hurt themselves and their loved ones. Stories like mine are not uncommon, in fact when I first started LifeSIGNS similar stories poured in via email. Now, all this time later, social networks are helping people express themselves and talk about their stress and distress. Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook are important channels for self-expression and learning, but kids are moving off the open web and into smaller, private social networks like WhatsApp and Kik. I really hope friends know how to be a good friend if someone starts talking about trouble at home or school, or touches on self-injury.

Self-Injury Awareness Day (#SIAD on social networks) probably started in America 18 or 19 years ago. How ever it started, it's a grassroots global movement - nobody owns the day, nobody needs permission to get involved, and nobody is asking permission. Each individual does what they feel comfortable doing - talking about the issues and helping people see that it's OK to talk about self-injury and emotional health. Online and offline.

Self-injury is a coping mechanism - it's not usually done for the reasons many assume. Self-injury is usually a very private act performed just to help the person 'wake up' or 'quieten down' so they can get on with their day. While many people hurt themselves at night to quell their raging thoughts after a hard day, many also hurt themselves during the day simply to banish overwhelming emotional surges so they can get on with work, studies, and life in general. As destructive and dangerous as self-injury is, it's also banal for many.

Self-injury doesn't necessarily indicate mental illness - it might indicate mental ill-health, but acute or chronic stress and distress can drive a person to hurt themselves to seek relief and release from anguish. Those people with chronic mental illnesses, personality disorders, or those experiencing an acute mental breakdown may well find that self-injury is a valid coping technique to manage their symptoms, mood, and energy levels. The awful truth is that self-injury works, and works fast.

This is indeed awful, as when a person is ready to move away from self-injury, they'll find that alternative coping techniques just aren't as useful. It takes real fortitude to choose something other then self-injury time and time again. The recovery journey is long and winding, with bumps along the way. I cannot recall anyone completing the journey without glitches - short times when they might have hurt themselves maybe just a little. The urge to self-injury is so strong - simply resisting the urge isn't so helpful, a person has to have other things to try. Lots of other things.

This is when supportive friends are so important. Many who self-injure have low self-esteem - it's a major theme - and are desperate not to be a burden on their friends. Yet it's not about talking about self-injury itself, it's about talking about life and everything, just like friends do at three in the morning. Self-Injury Awareness Day may be a time when more people talk about self-injury, but for health and happiness, talking about all the small things is even more important. Self-expression is a key to self-esteem, and the first step away from self-injury.

So while one day on its own isn't going to change the world, one day plus you might change somebody's world. Please take part in SIAD today.

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