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  • Kriti Budhiraja


TRIGGER WARNING: mention of self-induced violence

“Crimson red strewn on her arms

The agony shrouded by a luscious smile

She questions, her desire for the pain

It remains the only thing to keep her sane”

The term self-harm is quite self-explanatory. It refers to the pain that is inflicted on someone, by themselves. People who engage in such behaviours often find themselves cutting, punching, burning with cigarettes, matches, or candles, pulling out hair poking objects through body openings or even breaking bones or bruising. Drinking alcohol or doing drugs while hurting yourself increases the risk of a more severe injury than intended. The frequency of people who self-harm is saddening, with millions of such cases emerging each year. While the young adult age group is most affected by this, women are more likely to succumb to self-harm than men.

But why do people self-harm and who are these people? There are no fixed rules about why people self-harm. It is very different for everyone. Self-harm can be associated with certain experiences. There are many reasons why young people may start to self-harm. Family reasons, such as frequent fights with other family members or parents separating. Self-harm can be triggered by issues regarding sexuality, culture or religion. Bereavement, current or previous experience of abuse in childhood or stress as a result of bullying or internal or external expectations to perform academically can all lead to self-harm. Low self-esteem and feeling of isolation are also common with such individuals For others, the reasons are less clear and can be harder to make sense of.

Like many other mental illnesses, Self- harm is treated as a taboo subject and thus several myths still surround this topic. The biggest myth about self-harm is that self-harm is attempted suicide, which is completely untrue since people who self-harm, are actually using it as a method of coping or dealing with the vicissitudes of their life. However, if self-harm continues, the chances of the person having a mental breakdown increase which may lead to suicide, if the person does not receive any sort of help. Another common myth regarding this issue is that people who self harm are trying to get attention. This belief is controverted by the fact that people who self-harm are found to keep this painful truth a secret. They would wear long sleeves shirts, even in hot summers, just conceal the scars on their arms. And lastly, the belief that such people are ‘crazy’ or ‘dangerous’. This is misleading because a scar on one’s own arm is not a sign that they want to do the same to others, but rather, a silent, excruciating cry for help.

Discovering that a friend or relative self-harms can be extremely unsettling at first. It can be hard to understand why a person would want to deliberately hurt themselves. But is imperative to understand, that such a needs help. Listen to the person, try to read in between the lines, understand their trauma and pain, that exists beyond the scars, because it is the person that matters not the scars.

It can be very difficult for a person to stop self-harming, but there are simple things that can be done to help the individual. The first step is to ask them about their feelings. In the process of understanding the person, it is essential to remain non-judgemental and also not make them feel guilty or ashamed of what they have done. Let them know, that you want to listen to them and ready to help in whatever way possible. If the person says they want to stop self-harm, you can discuss with them, several alternative, healthy ways to overcome the distress they are going through. And lastly, when they do discuss their issues with you be compassionate and respectful to what the person is telling you, even though you may not understand or find it difficult to accept what they are doing.

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