Suicide Prevention

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World Suicide Prevention Day is observed annually on the 10th of September.

Just as the name states, this day was made to inform the public of the severity of suicide and also in an effort to abolish the negative stigma that surrounds suicide.

Negative stigma:  Just like self-harm, suicide can often have negative stigmas that can prevent people from reaching out.  Some people may think suicide is “the easy way out.”  They may consider people with suicidal thoughts mentally deranged.  Sometimes the sufferer may even be called selfish for wanting to abandon his family and friends.   With all these ideas that make the victim look like a “bad person”, it can be difficult for someone with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help.  We need to assure these people that we want to help them through this tough time, rather than trying to guilt them into giving the idea up.

Why do we need to know about suicide?  Even if it isn’t affecting you or your family directly, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  And maybe it isn’t affecting you at the moment, but it could.  If a friend or family member becomes suicidal it can be helpful to be able to see these signs and offer help.

How can you help?  

What puts an individual at risk?  Some risk factors include mental disorders (depression, bipolar, anxiety, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and the like), family history of suicide, chronic pain, as well as previous suicide attempts.  But don’t think that every person who fits any one of these descriptions is suicidal; they are just a possible factors.    Stressful environments (deadlines,  loss of a loved one, financial burdens, etc.) can also be huge components.

How do you know if someone might be suicidal?  An individual may be suicidal if he frequently talks about suicide, feels anxious and irritated, feels worthless, becomes withdrawn, feels like a burden or similar feelings that may make him think that life isn’t worth living.

What can you do?  Some people may joke about suicide.  This can be upsetting as well as confusing.  To be on the safe side, take what the individual says seriously.  Talk to him about what came across as suicidal.  If said individual was being suicidal, let him know you care.  Help him seek professional assistance.  Contact any professionals the individual is seeing already (psychiatrists, psychologists, etc.)  If it can be avoided, try not to leave the individual alone, especially somewhere he can access weaponry.  About 50% of suicides are committed using firearms.  You can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) for help, whether you yourself are considering suicide or are caring for an individual.  There are also hotlines for individual states that you can look up if you need them.

Later on:  Unfortunately, preventing someone from committing suicide once doesn’t guarantee that the idea won’t cross the individual’s mind again.  It’s important to follow up.  If  the individual began seeing a psychologist, make sure he is keeping up with his visits.  If the individual was prescribed medication, make sure he is taking the correct dosage.  Some people may not like all the attention, so try not to pry more than necessary.  But support can save a life, so try to offer a hand.

How can you get help?

Reach out:  Just like with self-harm, finding a caring and trusting individual with whom you can disclose your thoughts of suicide can be extremely helpful.  Find a friend, family member, significant other, counselor, etc. to unload these feelings too.  Sometimes talking about it is enough, but sometimes it isn’t.  What is important is building a support system that you can go to frequently without being put down or ridiculed for your thoughts.  I know that for myself I always hated intervention.  It would be hard to tell my friends about my suicidal thoughts.  Not because talking to them made me feel worse, but because I feared that they would tell a school counselor or my parents.  And if someone is telling you these thoughts you probably should contact a counselor or parents.  I just hated making a big deal about it and possibly disrupting my homework-packed schedule.  The thing to realize is your life is important.  I know it can be inconvenient and annoying to get help or just attention, but if it saves your life it’s worth it.  If your friend tells your parents about your suicidal thoughts, don’t be offended or think the friend is untrustworthy.  Your friend just cares.  So try your best to be willing to talk to people.

The Trevor Project:  As I said in my last post, victims of bullying may resort to self-harm or suicide.  One group that is particularly affected by bullying and suicide is LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning/Queer) youth and adults.  The American Association of Suicidology reports that about two or three times as many LBG high school students attempted or considered suicide in comparison to straight students (it is difficult to get an exact count since death reports don’t include identity or orientation, and those things may be unknown to the parent as well).  Although there is less data, one study states that 30% of adults who identify as transgender have attempted suicide in comparison to about 5% of adults in the US overall.  The Trevor Project was created in 1998 to help LGBTQ teens and young adults (ages 13 – 24) if they are thinking about suicide or if they need support in general.  The Trevor Project offers a lifeline that you can call at 1-866-488-7386.  You can also communicate via text or chat .  You can find these resources and more at their website, http://www.thetrevorproject.org/.

Survivors of Suicide:  Suicides can obviously devastate families.  Friends, family, significant others, or really anyone you communicate with can be affected some how.  Deaths in and of themselves are tragic enough.   With suicide, the survivors (those with a relation to the individual who committed suicide) often blame themselves for the action.  Some survivors may even consider suicide now even if they hadn’t prior.  In other words, suicide is a traumatic event, and these survivors often need support too.  Grieving periods will be different for everyone.  Be respectful and don’t try to force “fun” onto them.  Be there for them, but allow them time to heal.  For more information in regards to survivors you can check out this link: http://www.survivorsofsuicide.com/

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Of course this is a heavy subject, both emotionally and information-wise, so I was only able to scratch the surface.  Remember that suicide prevention and awareness goes well beyond this day.  Reach out if you need to and support if you can.

With love and support,

The Empathetic Activist

Cyber-bullying, self-harm, and suicide

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Dear Reader,

One possible initiator of self-harm can be bullying.  Bullying of some shape or form has been around for ages.  Cyber-bullying is defined as using electronic means (cell phones, text messages, email, social media sites, private messaging, etc.) to harass, threaten, or intimidate someone. It doesn’t seem surprising that the internet can be used to communicate hate, but even still there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the whole issue.

I try not to read too much into jokes I see or snide comments I hear, but it’s always difficult not to be affected.  From the general comments I see on my Facebook news feed day to day, many people want to argue that cyber bullying “isn’t even real”.

Why doesn’t everyone think cyber-bullying is a problem?

  • You can avoid it:  People may start sending you nasty messaging or making obscene comments on your profile of whatever social media site.  So?  For most sites you can block or report users.  Yes, that’s true.  You can block people.  But that’s usually not going to solve the problem 100%.  It’s hard to forget a negative remark, especially if it attacks something personal to you.  If you aren’t so keen with your weight and someone comments it, it’s probably going to be upsetting.  If you’ve been struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide and someone says that you should go through with them, it can be difficult to continue resisting the urge.  So even if you can successfully block the person and stop their comments, you may still be affected by that which was said previously.  And in cases of extreme cyber-bullying, blocking the perpetrator might not stop them.  Someone make continue making more and more fake accounts just to get under your skin.
  • It’s just words.  “Real life” bullies can physically harm you.  Okay, yes, you can’t punch someone through the computer screen (and hopefully that isn’t invented soon).  But even with in-person bullying the physical assault might not be the worst part.  I know in some cases it can get extremely bad and I’m not saying physical assault is less terrible than verbal.  The point I’m making is that verbal assault is also terrible.

Why is it a problem?

  • It’s rampant.   I’ve personally seen cases of it very often on social media sites I’ve been on.  Usually on the less extreme end, where the offender insults you for a while but doesn’t continue harassment afterwards.  I’ve seen cyber-bullying when an individual posts pictures of him/herself and is insulted on appearance.  Or something as trivial as stating an opinion on a public post and being called stupid because it doesn’t match the thought process of the bully.
  • It can be public.  Although some bullying can be done via private messaging, a lot can be done publicly.  The world wide web is a huge audience.  And while a huge audience can be beneficial when witnesses see the bullying and support you, sometimes they may gang up with the bully.
  • Anonymity.  Some sites give the option to submit things anonymously.  Anonymity isn’t always a bad thing.  Maybe you want to send someone  a sweet compliment but would be too embarrassed for that person to know it’s you.  Maybe you want to state your opinion on something but fear being attacked.  Anonymity can be helpful in these instances.  But on the other hand, sometimes it is used as a disguise to harass people.
  • People have already been affected by it.  Some individuals are self-harming or committing suicide because of being bullied online.  In my opinion, that alone makes this a serious issue.

Now instead of more general cyber bullying remarks, I want to discuss something specific.  Recently fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith hanged herself after being bullied on a social media site called Ask.fm.  Through this site you can ask other users questions and have the option to be anonymous.  As I said before, an anonymous feature can be abused and used to hurt people.  But what is most controversial about this issue is that when the company traced the IP addresses of the posters, the majority of these were from Hannah’s computer.  This idea may seem strange to many.  Some of the bullies were real, but most of the comments were from Hannah.  From the standpoint of a person who self-harms, this isn’t all too shocking.  As I’ve said before, self-harm is more than just cuts or burns.  In fact, it’s more than just physical abuse.  Belittling yourself relentlessly can also be a form of self-harm.  Although I’m nowhere near the same situation Hannah was in, I have verbally abused myself time and time again.  I’ve sent hate mail to my own email address, calling myself useless and stupid.  Usually whenever I cut myself I will call myself harsh names or tell myself that I’m worthless.  And when I try to avoid self-harm by writing down my thoughts, the ideas are usually quite cruel against myself.  And I did all of this without ever really being bullied (a few cruel comments here and there, but nothing severe).  It’s not surprising to me that someone who was bullied would do the same to herself.  Maybe not as an alternative to self-harm, but as a form of self-harm itself.  As I said before, it’s not hard to start believing what the bullies tell you.

I brought up the last point because lately whenever I read about Hannah Smith’s death from posts on social media sites, I see so many responses about how she was weak-skinned for letting comments affect her.  Comments like that, as well as the ones that say cyber bullying isn’t a “real” form of bullying, bug me immensely.  Okay, maybe cruel comments towards you don’t hurt you.  Good for you!  And I’m not even being sarcastic; that is really good.  But they can hurt some people and it doesn’t mean that person is weak.  It means he is hurting.  And when we see someone hurting, we should want to help.

With never-ending support,

The empathetic activist

Self-harm relapses

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Dear Reader,

Like quitting anything addictive, giving up self-harm (unfortunately) isn’t usually a quick process.    The desire to harm probably won’t dissipate after using a few alternatives.   And other than just the desire, it is very common for individuals to relapse.  There can be many triggers to a relapse and also many things to learn from it, but most importantly self-harm relapses do not mean you have failed.

If you wanted to quit self-injury then why did you slip up?  If there is any self-harm topic that I personally know the best it would be relapse.  And in my own personal life there have been a vast array of triggers that have gotten me off track.  I have only dealt with some of the many.  I will go through a few triggers that I have either been through personally or understand why it could be a trigger.

  1. Dramatic events:  About a year and a half ago one of my best friends passed away.  I had been self-harming for a while up until this point.  At first I was in shock.  I didn’t want to acknowledge any pain yet so I didn’t feel the need to self-harm.  After few weeks the event and all its consequences started to catch up with me.  Having that built up (as well as the natural toll any event like that takes on an individual) caused such great tension and depression that it was difficult to even imagine options other than self-harm.  And although it may have helped initially, overall I was upset with myself for starting back up.  Other dramatic events could be bad break ups.  For me, every rejection comes with my own questioning of my self-worth.  This can lead to anger towards myself  and with that harm.  Any other events, such as natural disasters, violence, or abuse can have similar effects.
  2. Stress:  Having work to do can be a good thing.  With enough work I can keep focused and my thoughts won’t drift into dark territories.  On the other hand, too much work can be exceedingly frightening.  Fear of deadlines, unsatisfactory work, or the consequences of such can make the workload even tougher than it was.   And once you build up all this stress it’s hard to shake it off and just keep plowing through.   It may seem necessary to release some of the tension through self-harm to be able to get back to your work.  It may sound silly, but at times I’ve actually found it to help.  With its many drawbacks, of course.
  3. Depression:  Even without clinical depression, everyone has their fair share of blue moods.  It can be hard to get out of these moods.  Wanting to “snap out” of these moods or the potential endorphin release can make self-harm sound appealing.
  4. Loss of hope: If you do relapse, that event may be a trigger in and of itself.  The (false) idea that “you’re not going to get better” can make you lose sight of recovery.

Relapsing isn’t pretty stuff.  It can be extremely upsetting to have worked so hard to quit just to find yourself back in a sadly familiar rut.  A very common thought is that it should be time to give up.  Or that relapsing is a sign of being unable to improve or not having strong enough will power.  As guilty as I am myself for having similar thoughts, they are horrendously incorrect.

If you are making an honest effort to quit, that’s admirable itself!  Despite the emotional toll of self-injury, it can become a habit.  Although we can adapt to change, it can be uncomfortable to make that first step out of a comfort zone, even if that comfort is hurting.  If you have at least honestly considered quitting, didn’t self-harm when you felt the desire, or used an alternative, you have already taken a step out of this comfort zone.  And for something of this nature, trying should always be admired.

Recovery is really about the journey.  Even if you fully break away from the desire, recovery isn’t just over.  You don’t just reach a certain point and you’re done with it forever.  Some people may never think of self-harm ever again, but others may reconsider it years later.  It isn’t about being “done”, it’s about becoming stronger and learning to cope without the destructive behavior, whether it’s self-harm, drugs, alcohol, or anything related.  Although this sounds a bit frightening, in another sense slip-ups don’t sound nearly as drastic.  Recovery is a path you take.  You may trip over a few rocks or veer away for some time, but it’s still a continuous path.  It’s going to be there forever.  Some days may be foggy and it will be hard to find.  But if you keep a sense of where you are or get direction from certain people, you can find it again.

As I said before, once you relapse it can be hard to get back on track.  As upset as you may be, you need to remind yourself that it isn’t the end.  Relapses are very common and you aren’t a weak person because you gave in.  Dwelling on the disappointment will only hold you back.  Look at what triggered you to relapse and try to avoid those situations or react differently next time.  You have probably accomplished so much already that the relapse is comparison isn’t that big of a deal. A relapse can occur after one week or one year.  What matters is how much self-harm you have avoided already and how much more you can avoid.  You can’t be free from imperfections, but you can learn from your mistakes and improve how you manage things.

A relapse is merely a pothole on the road to self-harm recovery, not a dead end.  Don’t lose hope.

_____________________________________________________

All the topics I have written on up till now have been based off of ideas from a recent school report of mine.  These were the main components I wished to address, but I still have every intention of keeping this blog up.  Hopefully I can find other self-harm ideas I didn’t mention before, elaborate on news events or scientific advances, or perhaps even take requests from my readers.  If not, I have a few small ideas that I might be able to form into posts.

Thanks for staying with me thus far.  It has really meant a lot!

With love,

The Empathetic Activist

Self-harm alternatives

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Dear Reader,

I argue again and again that self-harm can be destructive.  But that isn’t completely true.  There is one positive component about self-harm and that is it can be used as a coping technique.  While it is a coping technique, it’s hard to argue that it is 100% effective.  The possible long-term scarring, guilt build-up, and feelings of being at war with your own body can detract from the natural endorphin release or other emotional relief induced by self-harm.  So while we may wish to eliminate self-harm, we still want to retain some form of coping technique.  And hopefully a coping technique that doesn’t have such negative effects.

Even after you find a person to confide in (see previous post, Confesssing self-harm and/or receiving confessions) or have gotten help in the form of therapy, medication, etc., the desire to self-harm can still arise.  But there are still other options.

Just as people self-harm for different reasons, different coping alternatives may work better or worse for some people.  Fortunately, these two ideas can often go hand-in-hand.

Why do you cut?  Learning why you harm yourself can help when it comes to finding a better coping strategy fit for you.

  • Try to recognize your triggers.  Oftentimes when the desire to self-harm comes up you may just immediately engage.  Try to stop for a second and ask yourself how this came up.  Are you having a fight with someone?  Are you stressed from school or work?  Maybe something didn’t happen right now, perhaps you’re remembering abuse or bullying or rejection.  And what triggered those memories?  Or maybe you’re just having the blues and the emotions are all built up.  After self-harming for so long you might not even remember why you do it; it might have become a natural reflex.  Take a minute to ask yourself what brought it up this time.  Sometimes it’s the same thing or sometimes it’s a completely different reason.
  • Learn the motivation.  You can read more about motivations in a previous blog post, “Why would anyone self harm?”  Your motivation can be any one of those listed (distraction, to feel, sense of control, expression, or to feel better), something else, or maybe even a different motivation each time.  If you can’t pinpoint the motivation exactly, don’t be discouraged.  It is helpful but not necessary for recovery.

Alternatives.  There are different techniques to coincide with your reasons for wanting to hurt yourself.  They may or may not work.  Everyone is different.  Sometimes the technique might not work initially but eventually you might take on to it.  Overall, don’t give up if you think an alternative you’re trying isn’t working.  If you can’t exactly pinpoint the emotions, just try whatever sounds comfortable to you.  There’s no harm in trying, in this regard.

  • Express emotions:  Do something that you would do any other day to express yourself!  This can include drawing, painting, writing poetry or a song or journal entry.  Because you’re feeling down these finished products might not be as wonderful as those you make when you’re happier.  That’s not what’s important.  You don’t have to show these to anyone.  Perhaps you want to write down some really nasty stuff then tear it up.  This metaphoric (the idea of “destroying” your problems by ripping them apart) catharsis may prove helpful.  Also, some people may draw or paint fake cuts on their bodies (try to use materials that won’t harm your body).  After you get it out of your system you can realize just how badly you would have scarred or bruised yourself if you had self-harmed.
  • Releasing tension:  For those who self-harm to release built up tension, it can be helpful to exercise, use stress balls, or break things (try something you won’t regret having broken, such as pencils or just ripping paper).  You may even want to scream (be careful however, this can attract attention.  Use with caution).
  • To soothe:  Because self-harm can release endorphins, some individuals my self-harm to soothe themselves.  Just like any other day you can soothe yourself by taking relaxing baths, cuddling pets or objects, or listen to relaxing music.
  • To snap back into “reality”:  Sometimes when I’m depressed I feel like I’m stuck in a rut and can’t get out.  Self-harm can get me out of the mundane thought patterns.  As a substitute for this some people may eat something spicy or sour.  Or as strange as it seems, some individuals may hold ice cubes.  After holding ice for a while your skin begins to feel a bit numb or even sting.  But as long as you’re not completely immersing yourself in a bucket of ice for a long period of time, it shouldn’t do any real damage.
  • If you don’t feel like you have control:  You may feel like you can’t manage everything that’s going on.  In these instances it can be helpful to talk to a friend or trusted person or even join an online forum.
  • For the actual, physical pain:  After self-harming for so long, the pain itself can become addictive.  Once again, holding or rubbing ice over your skin can imitate this pain partially.  Another technique is to put a rubber band around your wrist (or any other parts of your limbs that you can fit it) and snap it when you feel the need to hurt.  From stretching a rubber band too much you probably know that the snap can sting.  But it might not seem comparable to self-harm.  However, when done repeatedly, rubber bands can leave quite a sting, and even form small little welts that disappear in a few hours.  These two techniques give you some of the pain of self-harm, without the aftermath of scars or other bodily damage.

All of these are quick, “in-the-moment” solutions to combat the urge.  Although you’ll want to get rid of the urge entirely, I definitely suggest alternatives likes these to help in the meantime.

Thank you for your attention and stay tuned for future installments!

Stay strong,

The Empathetic Activist

 

Confessing self-harm and/or receiving confessions

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Dear Reader,

Sometimes self-injury can be an individual’s “deepest, darkest secret.”  Although everyone’s comfort level in social contexts vary, it would be hard to argue that carrying the burden of self-injury alone isn’t tough.  But then again, how do you get someone to share that burden with you?  Maybe you have a supportive person: family member, friend, significant other, psychologist, counselor, etc.  But how do you share something like this?  How do you know they won’t react badly?  Or, as unfortunate as it is, maybe you don’t have anyone that you think would be supportive.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, what should you do when someone confesses to you?  What should you say and what should you avoid saying?

Why don’t some self-injurers want to confess?  Many people fear the responses they may receive.  Some common fears are:

  • The listener will not understand the idea of self-harm.  As made evident by my previous blog post on the effects of the media, self-injury can have a negative stigma.  Some people may think the action is attention seeking.  Or perhaps they may think self-injury is  something only done by the extremely mentally unstable.
  • On the other hand, some people cannot stomach blood or cutting flesh.  A self-injurer may fear disgusting the person they wish to confide in.

How to confide:  Some people just might not be as accepting as you’d like.  Be careful while disclosing to ensure the best results.

  • It can be helpful to focus on your feelings leading up to your self-harm.  Don’t bog the listener down with the physical pain or fiery emotions during, especially if this is the first moment confiding.  Relaying these ideas can be a relief, but it is best to be certain that this person is willing to listen and won’t be frightened.
  • It is important to be comfortable.  If you are too frightened to talk face-to-face with someone, don’t stress yourself out.  Confessing is already a big deal.  Pick the means of communication most comfortable to you, whether that be in person, over the phone, or online with a specific person or perhaps a support forum.  Online support forums can be helpful if you don’t have a specific person to confide in or if you just want some extra support.   One such support forum is LifeSIGNS .  For this forum you can become a user and receive advice from the administrators of the forum.  Although they are not registered psychologists, the extra pick-me-up can be helpful for many.
  • Give it some time.  Although you’ve probably been dealing with self-harm for awhile, it might be new to the person you’re confiding in.  Or even if that’s not so, it may still be a surprise to them that you are self-harming.  Allow some processing time and try to ignore any premature exclamations from them that may not be well thought out.

How to receive a confession:  The self-injurer is obviously going through a rough time because he is self-harming.  And confiding in you may be a stretch out of his comfort zone.  Although you might not be certain, it’s important to be as respectful as possible and make the self-injurer feel comfortable.

  • Overall try to stay calm.  Any indications of shock or revulsion may make the self-injurer regret confiding and may prevent him from getting needed help.
  • Don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt themselves to feel better?  It’s okay.  What the self-injurer needs primarily is someone to talk to.  Just accept him for his coping methods that may differ from yours.
  • One tip I find the most important is do not threaten in any manner.  It may sound like a good idea to threaten to tell someone of authority or threaten to take self-harm tools away in an effort to get the self-injurer to stop hurting himself.  I’ll tell you now, that’s probably one of the worst ways to handle it.  Leaking the information can have serious effects.  Unfortunately enough, some families may not be sympathetic towards the idea of self-injury.  If the individual does not feel safe confiding in his guardians, don’t force it.  On the other hand, just because you take away the tools doesn’t mean you stopped the self-harm.  Giving up self-injury can be like giving up an addiction.  If the urges become strong enough the individual may relapse.  And just because he doesn’t have his tools doesn’t mean he won’t go out and find more.
  • Don’t let the self-injurer spend too much time recalling a depressive episode for you.  Thoughts alone can be triggering, so don’t let the individual dwell on every detail.
  • Although you shouldn’t threaten the self-injurer into it, do assist him in seeking help.  Don’t rush him or force him into something he doesn’t want to do, but remind him that it is in the best interest for his recovery if he finds help.

Although the end of self-injury is the main goal, do not overlook the significance of finding the right person to confide in.  In my own case I can be extremely shy and veer away from attention when I’m feeling down.  But nevertheless it is important to me to have those individuals that I can ask advice from or even just unload my grief to.  But to get to that stage, you must first confess of your self-harm.

Thank you for reading today.  Please take care and stay tuned for my next installments.

With love,

The Empathetic Activist

 

Self-Harm and the Media

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Dear Reader,

As I mentioned in previous posts, self-harm has been in existence for quite some time.  And although almost anyone about my age has at least heard of the idea, when my parents first learned that I was self-harming the action seemed extremely obscure to them.  I asked them about it and they said growing up they had never heard about it.  They could barely recall even knowing other kids with depression.  Although more mental disorders are diagnosed nowadays, they very well existed before.  So why does the idea seem so new?  I would say this can be attributed to the media.  Even if we don’t purposefully go out of our way to find it, even if we don’t pay full attention when it comes up in whatever we’re reading, the words or images alone can give us the general idea that it exists.

I would argue that the media can have a pretty negative impact on the reputation of self-injury and on the individuals who engage in such behavior.  One event that sticks out in my mind is the #Cut4Bieber hashtag that went viral over Twitter earlier this year.  Apparently the whole fiasco began as a practical joke on 4Chan.  The motivation can be unclear (what sources can you believe if you want facts in regards to a social media post?  Furthermore, it is difficult to read levels of sarcasm or jokes simply over text).  In my opinion the motivation accounts to just a fraction of the severity.  The posters may have actually wanted people to start harming themselves.  Or perhaps it was solely a joke to mock the idea that people may be extremely influenced by the actions of a celebrity.  But still the same it mocks self-injury.  It lumps self-injury into the realm of attention-seeking actions.

4chan

Screen shot of the alleged 4Chan post initiating this frenzy. Gory image removed.

Basically the madness began with individuals posting gory cutting photos (either staged images or legitimate wounds that had been publicly posted prior) on twitter accompanied by a caption begging the teen star to stop smoking marijuana or else they would continue to hurt themselves.

Begging Justin to stop smoking. Gory image removed.

Threats of suicide. Gory image removed.

From what I see, there are a lot of problems with this.  As I said before, it mocks the idea of self-injury.  As a person struggling with self-injury it can be difficult to get over that people think your method of coping is “stupid” or “attention-seeking”.  And oftentimes when their mode of coping is mocked, they’ll cut to get over that sting.  On the other hand, these posts were accompanied with quite gory pictures.  Self-harm images can be a trigger in and of themselves

There were a few common reactions to these posts.  Some people completely ignored them.  Others were angered that such negative ideas were becoming viral.   Still others retaliated, insulting anyone who would cut over such an issue or sometimes joked back with their “creative” spin-offs on cutting.

Perhaps clever but still destructive puns

Adding insult to self-injury

In my own opinion these replies can be just as bad as the original posts.  Although the originals supported this habit, they were indirect being that they we written by a supposed cutter.  The replies, however, are more direct.  They attack and ridicule self-injury.  Sure, sometimes they can be witty.  But from the standpoint of an individual fighting the urge, it can be like rubbing salt in a wound.

HOWEVER

I can’t be pessimistic and say all media attention is bad when it comes to the topic of self-harm.  In some instances it is quite the opposite.

It is becoming more and more common that celebrities share their stories of abuse, drug/alcohol addiction, eating disorders, self-injury, and the like.  Due to their popularity they can potentially reach a large audience.

One celebrity that comes to mind is teen star Demi Lovato.  She began her career as a child actress and became popular through the Disney Original Movie Camp Rock.  Since then she has also become a singer/songwriter/musician.  But her self-harm has followed her through her journey to fame.

Demi began self-harming when she was eleven.  She had come to the idea by seeing peers and the media participating in such.  Demi had been bullied throughout her childhood and teen years, especially being called “fat”.  Being mocked about her weight drove her also to eating disorders.  Although she began self-harming almost as an experiment (like many self-injurers have done) her main motivation for continuing was “to express [her] own shame of [herself] on her body.  [She] was matching the inside to the outside.”

It makes sense to most people for someone to have terrible self-esteem while they’re being bullied.  What is harder to grasp is that people can have equally terrible self-esteem even if everything else in their life seems to be going wonderfully.  As Demi journeyed into stardom her problems didn’t just pack their bags and leave.  If anything the issues increased.  Her career demanded very much of her and even if from the outside it appears that she gave it her best, inside she constantly worried about pleasing everyone.  Unfortunately, not everyone her worried about her.  Her eating disorders and self-injury worsened as her way of coping with all the stress.  But still those around her demanded more.  Luckily her family and close friends finally realized she needed help.  Demi checked herself into an institution and discovered that she was suffering from bipolar disorder as well as anorexia binge-purge type.

Demi Lovato speaks out against bullying

Removing negative influences

Demi is currently recovering.  She has been a very avid activist against bullying.  Bullying has damaged far too much self-esteem and can have lasting effects on the life of the bullied.  I’m not much of a Disney fan, and I don’t think Demi’s music would be the kind of genre I like, but I have really grown to admire her because of her dedication to turning her downfalls around to reach out to others.

As demonstrated by these two examples, the media can be extremely negative or extremely positive in regards to self-injury awareness.  Hopefully my blog and others like it can contribute to the positive media influences, to help those struggling as well as informing others.

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I apologize for being extremely late with this post.  It’s been rough and due to the touchiness of this blog I don’t like to write anything when I’m not in the right frame of mind.  Hopefully I shall be able to stay on track better in the future!

Thank you to individuals following my blog (and putting up with my lateness) as well as to newcomers!  Every viewer is appreciated!

Love,

The Empathetic Activist

Why would anyone self-harm?

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Dear Readers,

For those with no knowledge of this behavior or perhaps just individuals who think they have a low pain tolerance level, wanting to hurt  can seem like a strong, masochistic idea.  Self-harm usually doesn’t appear out of thin air.  Generally self-harm results from mental disorders or trauma.  Such mental disorders include eating disorders, mood disorders (especially depression or bipolar disorder), anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, conduct disorders, and substance abuse.  The mental disorder the self-injury is stemming from oftentimes coincides with the specific motivation for the injury.  On the other hand, self-harm can result from trauma.  Upsetting events such as family issues, negative social experiences, sexual abuse, or sometimes even national or global issues can send an individual spiraling into self-injurious behavior.

These people may engage in self-harm.  But why?  If they already feel bad, why would they want to feel worse?  Though physically inducing pain, there is obviously much more to it psychologically.  As stereotypical as it sounds, with self-harm it really is “the thought that counts.”  With suicidal self-harm the motivation is to kill oneself, whatever the trigger for that may be.  Non-suicidal self-harm can have a variety and multiple motivations.  I’ll go through some of the most common.

Distraction.  The individual can often feel overwhelmed with their own emotions, personal relationships, or even work/school.  So much is going on and he feels like he can’t juggle it all.  Just like someone may binge eat after a sad break-up, some individuals will self-harm to try and get their mind off of their pain.

To feel.  However, sometimes the problem isn’t having too many feelings, but possibly none at all!  This can be considered apathy: not caring about perhaps other people or future events.  Or rather than just lack of concern, some people may not have the emotional reaction they think is appropriate for certain situations.  This may include not feeling down by depressing news or not being affected by the emotions of a loved one.  Also, the lack of motivation may be a component.  One side effect of depression is the loss of motivation or enjoyment with previously enjoyable tasks.  Any of these instances can sometimes frighten the individual.  Not caring about the future or not wanting to do anything can feel like lacking the will to live.  Realizing this may alarm the individual.  They may wish to feel again and think that inciting physical pain may “snap” them back into reality.

Sense of control.  The world can be a scary place.  One of the most frightening aspects is that some things are out of our control.  Events or even our own emotional reactions to things can be out of our control.  What can be controlled, however, is injury.  The individual has the power to decide how, when, where, and to what extent he can hurt himself.  Sure, choosing not to self-injure would be control too.  But although resisting action can be very admirable, it is not as visible.  It might not feel like you have the same level of power.  This can often be motivation for victims of sexual abuse since their abusers had power over them.

Expression.  Some of us are great at expressing how we feel.  Whether that be yelling out of the car window at an inconsiderate driver, sitting down and having that much needed discussion with a loved one, or writing those feelings out in poetry, song, or story, we might be pretty good at letting people know what’s bugging us.  For self-injurers of this nature, talk-therapy or discussions with an open friend can be a good coping alternative.  However, not everyone has this skill.  Some don’t have the words to say how they feel, don’t know what they’re feeling, or don’t even have an audience that they think would care.  As you’ve probably heard it’s never good to bottle things up.  For those who might not be able to vent in the aforesaid ways, they may release their tension and frustration through self-injury.

To feel better.  As strange as this motivation sounds, it makes biochemical sense.  As you might be aware, endorphins are neurotransmitters important in making us feel happy or relaxed.  Studies have shown that individuals who self-harm or have depression have significantly fewer natural endorphins.  Endorphins are released by exercise or even just excitement.  In this case, self-injury can give the individual a “thrill” or sense of dangerous excitement.  It can elevate endorphin levels and give a “rush.”  This is quite similar to doing drugs that create moods of elation.  And likewise, it can be just as difficult to quit.

Of course these are only a few of the possible motivations for self-injury.  And oftentimes they are combined.  The self-injurer often has these motivations subconsciously and may not even know these are the reasons he hurts himself.  However, knowing the motivations can be important for finding out how to quit.

Thank you for reading this week’s blog on self-harm.  It came out a little later than I intended and I hope to get next week’s done sooner.  I’ll probably be discussing self-harm and the media in my next installment.

Yours,

The Empathetic Activist

What is Self-Harm?

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Dear Readers,

As much as I wish to educate people on what self-harm is really about, I must argue that the topic has become much more prevalent.  Despite more attention, self-harm is not a new problem.  Although documentation of historic self-mutilation isn’t abundant, what exists has very similar characteristics to the behavior we see today.  The Greek Playwright, Sophocles, alive four centuries before the common era, wrote of a son, Oedipus, blinding himself out of immense guilt.  Self-injury can also be a part of religious rituals.  Whether to be taken literally or not, the gospel chapters of the Holy Bible state that any portion of one’s body that leads him into sin should be cut off or gouged out.  Some Christians would cut or starve themselves during the middle ages.  And it’s hard not to recall the infamous tale of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh amputating his own ear.

So it’s been a problem that has never quite died off.  But what exactly is it?  It comes with an array of titles: self-harm, self-injury, self-mutilation, self-inflicted violence, self-injurious behavior, self-abuse, and anything that pertains to hurting one’s own body. Cutting is the most common form of self-injury, but it is only one of its many manifestations. Individuals have been known to cut or scratch themselves with any type of sharp object, burn themselves with cigarettes or fire, interfere with the body’s natural healing processes, hit oneself directly or other objects, insert objects into skin such as staples or needles, purposely break bones, and even, as insignificant as it sounds, pull hair.  The definition has wandered back and forth, but commonly self-harm is classified as suicidal or non-suicidal.  As the name states, suicidal self-injury would be harm deliberately done to kill oneself.  On the flip side, non-suicidal self-harm often serves as means of coping.  Unfortunately, those who engage in non-suicidal may accidentally kill themselves.

In my next post I will discuss motivations for self-harm and those who engage in this behavior.

Until next time,

The Empathetic Activist