Friday, 28 February 2020

Self Injury Awareness Day

Guest Author, Sarah Dale, Powys Mental Health Citizen rep for Powys  shares her poignant and informative blog, discussing the importance of Self Harm Awareness, as we approach Self Injury Awareness Day on March 1st.

Our Guest Author & Citizen rep Sarah Dale raising awareness of Self Harm 

Self Injury Awareness Day – Sarah Dale
My name is Sarah and I am one of the mental health service user representatives (https://www.powysmentalhealth.org.uk/get-involved/meet-your-reps.html) . On the 1st of March it is Self-Injury Awareness Day, and mental health professionals and organisations from across Powys will be joining me in raising awareness about this very difficult topic. I'm asking you to help me in tackling the stigma, and making it easier for people to reach out for help.

Self-Injury Vs Self Harm
Many people use the terms self-harm and self-injury interchangeably. That's fine, but to be technical, self-harm is an umbrella term for behaviour that causes direct harm to oneself, for example alcohol abuse or eating disorders. Self-injury falls under that umbrella. Self-injury, according to LifeSIGNS is 'any deliberate, non-suicidal behaviour that inflicts physical harm on the body with the aim to relieving emotional distress.'  The intention of Self-injury is to release tension and seek relief from distress. This can quickly become a harmful coping mechanism.
My Story:
I am comfortable talking about my mental health, my borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression and eating disorder. I still find self-injury a difficult topic to talk about especially in a world where blame is put on the person who self-injures. Those who know my story have said to me that I’m pretty well-adjusted for what I have experienced in my life. They understand how self-injury has become a coping mechanism, when I had nowhere else to turn. I shouldn't have to dig up my past to justify my reaction to others. I shouldn’t have to repeat the same things over and over.

Myth-busting:
First of all, it isn’t attention seeking. I do everything I can to hide it and I feel guilty when my close family and friends find out.
Secondly; no, I don't enjoy it. That is like saying that people with tattoos enjoy the pain. Self-injury is a means to an end. I need the intrusive thoughts and feelings to stop. It is also not a suicide attempt.
It’s not just a teen thing. Self-injury can affect anyone at any time in their lives, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, religion
Finally, I am not a danger to you or your family. I'm more of a danger to myself than anyone else.
When I hear these views regularly, it's easy to see why many people suffer in silence and are too scared to reach out for help. So this year for Self-Injury Awareness Day I am going to try to be brave and talk about self-injury open and honestly. Will you join me?
My Experience:
For me as I began to recover from my anorexia I replaced it with self-injury. I did it in places on my body where people wouldn't see. I think I kept it hidden for a while, however I’m not sure when my family found out.
The first time I asked for help regarding my self-injuring it didn't go down well.  The health professional demanded to see my self-injury marks and when I refused I was called a stupid child. Then they grabbed my arm to try to roll up my sleeve. I snatched my arm back and ran out of the building to the car where my mum was waiting. This experience made me too scared to reach out to anyone else, even when I probably needed to got to Minor Injuries or A&E. It also meant when I needed check-up or flu jabs I was too scared to go because of the reaction to scars the people give you. It’s either a look of pity or disgust.
A lot of people turn to online support because there isn't any specific Self Injury support in Powys. It is difficult to find these websites but when I did, it was really helpful. Before that I used social media which as you probably guess wasn't particularly positive and was very triggering.
It is this experience that led me to wanting to help combat the stigma around self-injury. Over the years mental health awareness has increased. But certain topics are still very taboo and are difficult for people to talk about or understand. Self-injury I feel is one of those topics. People brush it off and resort to the myths I discussed above.
Why do people self injure?

Why do people do self-injure?
Self-Injury is a way a person can express deep distress without others knowing. Turning emotional pain into physical pain, as physical pain is easier to deal with than emotional pain, as it seems more ‘real’, valid and easier to take care of. Self-injurious behaviour may calm, numb or awaken a person.
However, the effects of self-injury are only temporary and does not deal with the underlying issues. It is a coping mechanism (albeit a negative one), that can become an automatic response to daily stresses, and can escalate in severity. There are factors that make a person more likely to turn to self-injure such as, low self-esteem, perfectionism and high achievement, poor body image, trauma and abuse. However, the bottom line is that self-injury is a coping mechanism, and anyone who has anything distressing to cope with might potentially turn to self-injury.
This is why we need to be able to talk about self-injury in the open.
Raising Self Injury awareness in Powys
In my role as a mental health service user representative, I was at the National Mental Health Forum, and we were looking at suicide and self-harm prevention. I found that the legislation did not have much on self-injury prevention which really surprised me as myself and people I have spoken to, self-injury has been used to prevent suicide and quieten suicidal thoughts and feelings. Despite the legislation pushing for education and awareness about the subject it is still a very taboo subject.
Currently, Public Health Wales are looking at a document I wrote called ‘Self-Harm Reduction.’  The idea is that the document will be given to people who self-injure and contains all they need to know, what is self-injury is, self-injury alternatives, Harm Reduction, first-aid, went to go to Minor injuries/A&E, your rights when seeking help, self-injury support websites.
Also over several months I have made hundreds of orange ribbons and,  with the support of Powys Teaching Health Board,  I visited Newtown and Welshpool Community Mental Health Teams (CMHT) and gave all the staff a ribbon. I spoke about my experience and the idea that when a person sees the orange ribbon they can feel safe talking about self-injury without fear of judgement. The reaction from a health professional can set the tone for whether a person will seek help when needed. My own terrible experience has made me too scared to go to the GP or Minor Injuries Unit when I probably need to. The support for the project from the staff was amazing and many asked questions about how to approach the subject from a service user perspective. They are all now proudly wearing their orange ribbons as you can see in the pictures.
Welshpool Community Health Team
By March 1st all CMHT staff elsewhere in Powys will have an Orange Ribbon for Self-Injury Awareness Day. I also want to extend this to CAHMS, Crisis teams, and other health board staff.
What Can You Do?
I am encouraging everyone to get involved with ‘Self-injury Is..’ social media campaign, to educate and raise awareness for Self Injury Awareness Day on 1st March. The printable images can be found on the Black Cat Project Facebook page, where I keep people up to date with all my adventures as a mental health service user rep. If somebody is showing signs of self-injury, please use one of the resources below to find out how understand better what that person is going through, and how you can help.
I can recommend the LifeSIGNs website. LifeSIGN have long been supporters of Self-injury awareness day, raising awareness and providing a wealth of support and information about Self Injury. 
LifeSIGNS is the user-led small charity creating understanding about self-injury. It’s our continuing mission to guide people who hurt themselves towards new ways of coping, when they’re ready for the journey.
Black Cat Project – My Facebook group which offers support locally to Powys - https://www.facebook.com/blackcatproject/
Useful Links:
Self harm UK -www.selfharm.co.uk
Self harm UK is a project dedicated to supporting young people impacted by self-harm, providing a safe space to talk
Recover your life - www.recoveryourlife.com
One of the biggest  worldwide Self-Harm Support Communities on the internet. They support people suffering with Self Harm and other issues such as Eating Disorders, Mental Health problems, those dealing with Abuse.
National Self Harm Network - www.nshn.co.uk
Support individuals who self harm to reduce emotional distress and improve their quality of life. Support and provide information for family and carers of individuals who self harm.

Self Injury Support - www.selfinjurysupport.org.uk
Self injury Support is a national organisation that supports girls and women in emotional distress. We particularly help women who harm themselves 


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