I remember the first time I heard about cutting. I was in 5th grade and some kid was singing a song he’d found on YouTube. “I must be emo,” was the chorus. I was young, dumb and eager to fit in. So, I sang along. When people made emo jokes, I repeated them. When people pretended to slit their wrist, I didn’t think twice about laughing.
Then, in 7th grade, I found out one of my classmates was self-harming. Years later, I started doing it, too.
I understand why people don’t understand. Back in 7th grade, I didn’t understand why anyone would purposely hurt themselves. Self-harm is just one these things you don’t truly get until you do it. It’s also one of these things people easily claim as attention-seeking and dumb. I’m not proud of it but I disagree with anyone who thinks “recovering” is as easy as just not hurting yourself. The danger of self-harming isn’t necessarily the act of it, but the thoughts that make people do it.
Most people who self-harm use it as a coping method.
Coping methods are the tools used to deal with distressing emotions. There are many ways someone can deal with stress effectively, from exercise to painting, but the dangerous act of self-harm is very common. Someone’s need to hurt themselves may arise from different emotions. If you look up self-harm alternatives online, you’d find plenty according to the emotions one is feeling. For example, anger can be alleviated by punching a pillow while numbness can be reduced by simply holding ice cubes. Some of these alternatives do involve pain but, in a way, that is less dangerous and permanent.
While I did say that self-harm isn’t attention-seeking behavior, I won’t say there aren’t some who’ve done it to get noticed. It’s a story I heard a lot: they weren’t taken seriously and just needed someone to notice they were dying on the inside. It’s quite pathetic, not for these people, but the fact that someone has to destroy themselves to be able to be seen as “actually mentally ill.”
Self-harm, whether meant to gain attention or not, is always a cry for help.
Truth is, self-harm is a complex issue. My experience is not the same as my 7th grade classmates or anyone else. We all had different reasons, different methods and different ways to recover. Self-harm is hard to explain but it has to be talked about. It is impossible for people to help something they don’t understand at all.
So, how can we make recovery for self-harm easier?
We can encourage the discussion of this topic instead of letting it stay taboo. We can learn to listen, instead of assuming, when people open up about these issues. Schools should, at least, mention it along with mental health, in general. We should offer help and take people seriously before they resort to hurting themselves.
There’s always been this belief that if we talk about something, it will happen more often. Talking about touchy subjects like self-harm will not influence people to do it. It’ll just make it a lot easier for someone who do hurt themselves to seek help when they need it.
About Fatou Balde
Fatou Balde is a floater in life, currently dipping her toes in communications and psychology to see what she might pursue as a career. She's been depressed since 12, and desperately trying to get better since 16.