Anxiety and depression seem to be more prevalent than ever before in today’s society.  It is to be hoped that this is because it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about mental illness rather than the negative stereo type that it often carries with it. This is in no small part due to the courage of many sufferers both in public and private who have shared their condition and started that public dialogue.

While much has been written about anxiety and depression which we are beginning to believe are two different faces of the same condition. Less is spoken publicly about some of the ways in which people cope. One of these which can be difficult to talk about is that of self-harm. It is linked in the public consciousness to suicide or that terrible cliché a cry for help. It can be alarming for friends and family and often they don’t know how to reach out to the person.

Self-harm which I believe is better described as self-injury covers many practices: tearing your hair out, taking an overdose, cutting your body, burning, scratching, anorexia and other behaviours which are dangerous or harmful to the individual.

The causes although absolutely understood, often are as the result of a trauma or difficulties in early or adolescent life. It is likely that they had no one to talk to about what was going on, for example being abused and being unable to tell or not believed when they tell. Abuse is only one mechanism bullying; isolations from the family, perhaps being taken into care all have an effect. Self harm might me a form of punishment for something that the person thinks they have done or allowed to happen.

Yet self-injury is not a suicide attempt but rather the opposite a method of coping with the feelings that have nowhere to go. In that respect it is not that different from yelling or crying, it is just that the effects go inward directed back at themselves, not believing that they are worth much. The behaviour helps to numb the pain to put off having to deal with it and that helps them face the next day.

Unfortunately society and even healthcare professionals have treated those who self-injure poorly. The condition is not well understood and it can be seen as taking resources away from people who ‘are really ill’. Talking to sufferers it is not uncommon to hear of being treated roughly. Fortunately things are changing and certainly in the health community the need for treatment is widely recognised.

It is possible to get help, your GP will be able to access a range of therapies and there are many support groups across the country.  As so often talking therapies such as counselling can make a real difference as the trauma and issues are revisited and expressed. Know what can trigger your self-injury – see it you can avoid or mitigate its effects. As far as you are able look after yourself, clean wounds, protect injured sites, try to cut down or change behaviours.

If you are supporting someone who self-injure, you of course need to be aware of the risks and the dangers, but try not to see them as their injury try to support them as they struggle with the condition and accept that there will be setbacks. Ultimately it is going to be a long process to resolve this.