I'm going to preface this by saying, this is going to be an extremely hard post for me, with some uncomfortable thoughts. I was a prolific self harmer, from my teens until almost exactly 26 months ago. I relapsed with it at the beginning of last year, so it's been about 14 months that I've been totally free from it. I'm saying this, telling you now, for a few reasons. The first, is that I'm basically a rock star. The second is that I understand self harm. From being in hospital for so long, most of my friends now either are in grips of it, or are in recovery too, so this is part from experience of my battle and part from being a loved one of a sufferer. The third, is that I'm not basically a rockstar; I AM a rock star.
Elitism is more rife than you'd think in mental health. I don't think people always understand it or recognise it, but it's true. You can't be a sufferer until you're diagnosed. You're not that ill if you've not been hospitalised. Your self harm is superficial (somehow that kind of implies the person it too, I reckon). No NG tube history? No Anorexic history. I've thought along those lines, and I've learnt to recognise that I'm a bit of a monster when I'm ill- it's not who I am, it's the disorders running rampant. I'm constantly being demanded by my voices at the minute to prove my suffering, and I'm weirdly competitive with myself because of it.
Which brings me to why self harm is irrelevant.
Self harm is a symptom, not a diagnosis. The act itself often takes all the attention, looking for ways to prevent a person hurting themselves and that needs to be done. It might require medical intervention and it might require psychiatric admissions, but the act itself is just the beginning. Stopping self harm doesn't stop the reasons why one self harms and that's so often missed. Being in an environment where self harm is impossible can make it look that somebody has deteriorated mentally, because, well, it does tend to make a person's mental health decline. It takes out the behaviours that have come about for a reason. There is always a reason.
The other irrelevant is the degree in which people hurt themselves. It might be the deepest cut you have ever seen, it might be scratches, but either way- somebody felt like doing that was the only relief. Deliberately causing yourself pain is screwed up. It's unnatural. People, as you'd expect, self harm for different reasons. One of the biggest slurs that go out to self harmers is that it's an attention thing. Saying that is an elitist thing. You know what? There were times when I did self harm for attention, and I'm not as ashamed of this as I apparently should be. I needed attention. I needed help. It didn't make my internal pain any better or worse than people who did it for different reasons. If a person feels like the only way to get help or attention or anything is to hurt themselves, they NEED attention. It's obviously not the only reason and all are complex. Compulsion, addiction, feeling numb, needing control, commands by voices, intrusive thoughts, low self esteem, self punishment- the reasons are as varied as the people who harm themselves.
Helping and supporting a sufferer is unbearably hard and frustrating at times, because it can seem never-ending. It's not, though. Dealing with the self harming behaviours physically is only dealing with a symptom. A part of the problem. In fact, the red herring to the real issues. The issues are the relevance, not the symptom. Psychologically, it's a much longer, harder battle. It takes time, but recovery is real and possible and totally worth it. But it'll only come when the reason behind the symptom, like with any illness, is explored.