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Selfharm, depression and ignorance

Monday, April 3, 2006 | 4 comments

Today my attention was drawn to a post on digg: "Imaging May Help With Depression". The post provided a link to a short article which described how brain imaging might help in deciding if cognitive behavior therapy was going to be effective or not in the treatment of a depression.

The first, rather pathetic comment to the post on digg came from someone using the handle "clownguyx":

Why is this information not completely ready now? I hate this world. Where's my cutting blade?

Trying to make fun of something that is extremely real to a lot of people, daily: self-harm. I tried to get into a serious discussion with this clown (what's in a name), but it was clear: he had dated a cutter, and hence he knew it all.

What is self-harm

But what is really self-harm? I define self-harm as any action someone does that harms the person self. Sounds easy, and a lot of people are able to understand that someone cutting himself or herself with a razorblade is self-harm. But is it really that easy? Not always. There are forms of self-harm that are hard to recognize: not eating sufficient, or eating and throwing up, excessive nail-biting, pulling hairs out, hitting a wall, and the list goes on and on.

Often self-harm is mentioned in one breath with borderline personality disorder (BPD), forgetting that they are not equivalent. Self-harm also happens when someone is depressed, for example, but has not enough symptoms to call it BPD. Yet, in my experience, as soon as self-harm happens even professionals start to talk about BPD, and start to ask if you have been abused in your youth (like that is a rule with borderline, which it's not).

The self-harm myth: attention seeking

As for why it happens, a lot of people, some who really should know better because they claim to be professionals in the field, have an oversimplified and in many cases wrong answer: attention seeking.

From the replies clownguyx gave to my comments it was clear that he was just human, he too thought that it was all about whining to get attention.

Yet clownguyx failed to answer simple questions like: why do people who harm themselves often try to hide what happens? For example by wearing long sleeves despite when it's very hot outside? Or make up stories like: the cat scratched me?

And attention? Come on, how much attention do you think you get when your friends see cut marks on your arms? Oh, most people do give you attention the first, and maybe the second time it happens. But then it's downhill all the way. People don't want to be around "losers" (their words), or to quote clownguyx:

People that cut themselves are unoriginal. We've all been depressed teenagers, some just aren't as whiny as others about it.

Maybe a wake up call to clownguyx, not all people who harm themselves are teenagers having a hard time. It happens to adults, and hello ignorance, it happens to people who are way too young to be called teenagers.

A last word on the attention seeking myth: a lot of people who harm themselves have plenty of abilities to get more attention with way less effort. So please lets try to stop being ignorant, and let the attention seeking myth die a silent death, since it isn't worth all the attention it gets from clownguyx and peers.

Self-harm taboo

The sad thing is that people like clownguyx aren't helping people who harm themselves. Especially not by calling them weak and lazy. There is a huge taboo on self-harm, even by some who call themselves professionals in the field. The problem with self-harm is that it's serious. The current consensus seems to be that every form of self-harm should be taken seriously, and that there is no such a thing as: "Oh, it's just self-harm, nothing serious, come back when it becomes a suicide attempt". Mind, I am not saying that self-harm leads to suicide. But one can't tell from a quick glimpse if something was "just" self-injury, or a "real" suicide attempt.

The main issue to people who harm themselves is that they are not aware of an alternative (if there is such a thing, which is not an easy answer), and hence need help, either to find an alternative, or to limit the damage. Yet, if people around them snigger at self-harm, and make it look like some dumb act that "emo-kids and pathetic teenagers" do, where can they look for help? Not with their peers. With their parents?

Next time you want to make a joke about people to make your own life more important, ask yourself: should a joke block people from getting professional help?

Why do people harm themselves

As of the why people harm themselves, there is no easy answer. Self-harm works (yes) in several situations. The harm to the body releases endorphin, and serious self-harm can result in a kick or high feeling. It does something other options can't do at that very moment, often because their are to the person harming his- or herself no options available from his or her point of view. I often called it a reset button. Quite some people use self-harm when they experience losing contact with their body or the things that happen to them in their mind or in reality become overwhelming. In my case, I often think about it as something that has stopped me from doing worse things.

In short: there is no easy answer, yet the answer people like clownguyx might provide: they just have low self esteem, doesn't even come close in my opinion.

You can become whatever you want: not

Clownguyx is someone who strongly believes in if you want something bad enough, you can get it or become it. I explained to him that if that was the case, everybody could become an Olympic swimmer, a millionaire, etc.

The difference between you and me, using your swimming analogy, is that I believe that if I wanted to be an olympic swimmer that I could be. You believe that some people have it in them, while others don't. If you truly want something bad enough, you can get there.

The sad thing is that people who stand behind silly reasoning like the above either have made it (in their world view), or just state that they don't want it bad enough. Like they tell: I know a system that can make me win the lottery every time, but I am not going to use it, because I am happy with what I have.

You don't have to be a genius to understand that everybody has his or her limitations. Not everybody can become an Olympic swimmer, not even when they try and want it as bad as possible. Because there is the key: possible. Everybody has limitations, and hence there are also limitations on coping skills. Some things that affect one person hardly do affect another person in very unexpected ways. Not only it has to do with the "weakness" of the person, but also it has a lot to do with the background / history of the person.

Why is it that some people have no problems understanding that not everybody has the built to be an Olympic swimmer yet they fail to understand that the same can be said about will power. Is a person not able to become an Olympic swimmer weak? Or just like "the rest" of us.

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