There is tremendous stigma, a sense of fear, apprehension and a strong silence that is associated with self-harm, due to which we frequently hesitate to ask questions or talk about it openly. As we mark this month as the Self-Harm Awareness Month, I believe we need to spare a moment to give some thought to such incidents, and utilize this opportunity to create a sensitivity and awareness regarding self-harm and related crisis situations.

Creating Sensitivity

There are innumerable situations we confront in our lifetimes, be it a medical disease, an untreated illness, or any other crisis situation; self-harm ideation as well as action is also such an example. Often individuals experiences difficult emotions such as loneliness or extremely stressful situations, particularly where there are deficits in coping, problem solving and support mechanisms. Such persons are usually filled with many despairing and negative thoughts and emotions that make it difficult for them to see beyond a very narrow focused area. They tend to feel helpless about being able to change the present and therefore hopeless about the future and are driven to self-destruction.

Self-harm is a faulty coping mechanism for some. Individuals who may be indulging in such behavior often may find it difficult to express negative emotions – anger, pain, or distress verbally, and may feel that physically harming themselves gives them a kind of emotional release. On other occasions, they might feel that they are not able to communicate their thoughts, feelings or the desperation they may be experiencing, and might consider this to be the only language to get their feelings across.

However, the problem with such kind of coping is that it is temporary and the relief associated with it is short lived. This is why the behavior of causing injury to the self occurs repeatedly each time a situation occurs that is distressing and brings with it difficult and intense emotions. Also, regardless of the intention, those who self-injure are at great risk for accidental death, and are vulnerable to developing suicidal ideation.

Such an emotional turmoil is likely to have grave ramifications on their self-esteem and self-concept, and they can be driven to self-harm or even suicide, especially when there are no protective factors which act as buffers. Therefore, it is important for us to realize the importance of creating sensitivity and the need to seek help. As we fight the stigma associated with such situations, the need of the hour is to overcome our hesitations and be willing to reach out for help.

Seeking Help

As a mental health expert, I strongly believe the need of the hour is to develop public private partnerships, in order to ensure greater awareness, availability as well as accessibility of professional help. Further, it is such efforts that will go a long way in contributing to the growth of mental health as a field, while at the same time reaching out to all sections of the community at large. At the same time, there is a need to spread education and awareness, especially in a format of training the trainers, in order to ensure that those who are dealing with the children, adolescents or adults at risk for such self-harming tendencies could be equipped with the necessary steps for timely identification and interventions.

Need for Support

Such individuals need to be able to rely on strong support systems, including the support as an individual, as a family as well as others within the individual’s macro system and community. In addition to such support, these persons generally require intervention from a trained mental health expert to help them learn better coping behaviors. Therefore, it becomes essential to propagate awareness about these sensitive issues. Instead of getting anxious or panicking in such a situation, it would be helpful if we could guide the individual towards the right source of help and support. Most importantly, such individuals need to be guided to seek adequate intervention. Professional help is irreplaceable, and an individual with self-harming tendencies would be greatly benefited by seeking the help of a mental health expert, to help develop more adaptive coping mechanisms, and learn strategies to deal with thoughts, emotions and act in different situations more effectively.

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