Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Is Self Harming A Mental Illness?

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Self harm in itself has become a taboo subject when discussed in society. This is widely due to the lack of knowledge on the subject and general self harm awareness. It is therefore vital to understand what self harm is in order to take the right steps towards diagnosing, understanding and ultimately helping someone who self harms.

Self harm is more of an expression of internal emotional distress. The self harming however, generates a barrier between the individual and the rest of society as certain misconceptions and stigmas are attached to the issue which proves unhelpful to those who self harm. Self harm is not limited to age, ethnicity, gender or stickysocial status.

Anyone can be susceptible to this habit and recent statistics state that the UK holds one of the highest self harm rates within Europe with 400 people per 100,00 populations exhibiting self harming behaviour. Consequently, by labelling self harm as just another ‘mental illness’ we are ignoring the depths of the situation and the simple techniques which can be implemented by ourselves in order to offer self harm help.

So to answer the question, is self harming a mental illnessNo it is not, but mental illness is a proven catalyst for self harming behaviour and is joined by a range of factors which are common to the everyday person. Methods which help to prevent self harm include seeking professional help such as counselling, targeting the triggers and channelling negative emotions into alternative, healthier activities. Different methods are suited to different people and can be explained by a GP or counsellor. These practical methods which people can responsibly use are far more effective than throwing individuals into the mental illness category, leading to stigmatisation. No one wants the label ‘mental illness’ attached to them unnecessarily, especially when it is not justified nor properly diagnosed, which is why it is important to properly research and talk to the right people in order to understand what self harm truly is and for you to be in a position you offer appropriate and/or relevant self harm help.

Self harm in Black and Asian communities

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Individuals from Black and Asian communities, experience higher rates of self harm relating to their ethnicity for specific reasons. For men and women born in the UK or immigrants there are a range of factors which contribute to self injury, such as cultural conflicts, language barriers, limited access to help, socio-economic factors and even racism are just some of the roots to self harming amongst Black and Asian communities.

Although broad reasons for self harm can be attributed to Black and Asian communities, research shows specific causes for self harm amongst Black and Asian groups individually. Within the South Asian population for example, and in particular the female population, are known to have higher self harming and suicide rates compared to their white counterparts. A study carried out in Manchester emergency services over a 4 year period showed a 1.5 times more risk within the South Asian 16-24 year age group. Statistically the Asian population has higher rates of suicide and self harm compared to the white population which ultimately begs the question why? The issues lay mainly with culture and the negative effects it can have on individuals. Arranged marriages and forced marriages can lead to marital problems and possible domestic abuse as well as disputes with in laws. Immediate family can also apply pressure in terms of performing well in school, finding appropriate employment and general behaviour. These cultural and socio-economic pressures can eventually lead to self harm in order to cope with the expectations and stress of family disputes. Young people are of no exception as adolescents born in the UK may wish to integrate into British culture yet still be expected to conform to the culture of the previous generation. Restrictions on behaviour and life choices can lead to isolation and negative feelings for young people and possible self injury in order to cope. Ideas such as honour, shame and a sense of community spirit are taken more seriously within the Asian population and can have serious negative implications if people go against the grain.

 Additionally, there are communication barriers with the health department which are disadvantageous to individuals. Not knowing the English language and failing to communicate their needs to GPs can delay the recovery process. Additional obstacles include reluctance to tell a GP their concerns for fear that they will relay the information back to the family due to a community grapevine of sorts. These issues can lead to feelings of isolation and fear of nowhere to turn for help for self harm.

In terms of the Black community a recent study was carried out in three cities (Oxford, Derby and Manchester) and showed that young Black women are more likely to self harm than any other race. The rate displayed cases of 10.3 per 1,000 compared to 6.6 per 1,000 for the white population. The research further suggests that is due to Black population experiencing more social problems than their white counterparts, including unemployment, racism or housing problems. It also highlighted that larger members of the Black population are more likely to be students leading to academic pressure and possible self harm. Interestingly, the rates for white men and black men in the three cities study showed similar rates of self harm, with rates lower for older black men compared to their white counterparts. The Black community are also reported to be disillusioned with the healthcare system making them less likely to seek treatment or wait until the last minute to seek treatment. On seeking the treatment, research shows that they are less likely to be referred to ‘talking therapies’ which has been shown to have a positive effect on assisting individual’s recovery.

Overall, an individual’s ethnicity and culture can play a huge part in their health and well being. Socio-economic and political problems can act as catalysts for self injury in regards to racism, employment and financial issues. Identity confusion such as alienation from one’s culture and family expectations can lead to the desire to rebel or belong, lending oneself susceptible to self harm.

In order to reach out to Black and Asian communities, organisations and help lines need to be made available for individuals. There is a need to be ‘culturally sensitive’ in offering self harm help as practitioners must be aware of the cultural and social issues affecting differing members of the community, in order to properly help people who self harm. By mending the communication block and providing confidential and easy to reach assistance, we can heighten self harm awareness in the Black and Asian community and persuade people to step forward for self harm help.

How Promoting Self-harm has a Negative Effect on Young People

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

In early 2012, the microblogging site, Tumblr announced it would ban all pro-anorexia and pro-self-harming blogs. As a multimedia site these blogs consist of images, writing, and videos on the subject of serious health disorders. With an estimated 12 million UK users many have argued that the content is not promoting self-harm, but rather serves as a diary of sorts to post their feelings.

Organizations however state the sometimes dark and disturbing content can prompt vulnerable individuals to self-harm further rather than helping someone who self-harms. ChildLine, for example, claimed calls rose to 68% from 2010/2011 and believe such harmful sites are to blame stating, ‘The sites prey on children’s insecurities and have no place on the Internet’. This begs the question; with the Internet and media predominantly being our primary sources of information and therefore access to information on self-harm, how much of this is harmful to young people?

A case in June 2012 involved 15-year-old Rosie Whitaker who took her life. This was reportedly after the symbolsteenager was “heavily influenced” by pro-suicide websites during the stress of her GCSEs and problems with peer pressure. Such websites where teenagers, children and even adults can join, are reported to contain suicide and self-harming encouragement rather than self-harm help.

23-year-old Heather Williams, someone who self-harmed, claimed images and forums on self-harm were ‘triggering’ her to hurt herself due to their content. This ‘trigger’ can be experienced after viewing any sort of media platform on self-harm which will prompt the individual to injure themselves. Williams claimed sites should take responsibility to ensure their content does not distress viewers and ‘escalate’ their problems.

One can also argue the media can contribute to these triggers. Paris Jackson, for example, who after self-harming, reportedly posted pictures of her self-injuries online before her hospital admittance. If this is the case, some argue this cannot help fans or other people who self-harm, but rather serves as a trigger for further self-injury, especially, since many young people may look up to celebrities and perhaps worryingly, copy their behavior. In the mid-1990s for instance, self-harm was reported as a ‘fad’ of sorts, with musicians such as Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, “cutting themselves on stage and talking about it”. It is worrisome that young people may imitate peers or celebrities seeing self-injury as cool or normalized.

Additionally, a study was conducted in 2004 where participants claimed they were introduced to the concept of self-harm through outlets such as magazine articles, books, and message boards. What is more, language in the media may glamorize or present significant coverage which can lead to imitation by the public.

The above are examples of self-harming cases that could encourage young people to self-harm. On the other hand, some reported cases can provide self-harm awareness to assist young people to seek self-harm help. For instance, reports on celebrity Demi Lovato revealed how she was managing her self-harming behavior. Additionally, a key leading and successful football figure, Clarke Carlisle, in a recent BBC program, revealed his challenges with his past depression in an environment where there are so many expectations from his team, fans and the media to perform and deliver; and how he was actively looking at ways to assist other footballers manage their depression and mental health challenges. Essentially, he lifted the lid on what was considered to be an ugly subject that no one wanted to talk about for a variety of reasons.

In conclusion, if we need to find a way to report self-harm awareness through multimedia platforms without causing harm to individuals, self-harm is a gray area and coverage in any form must be done responsibly and sensitively, rather than plaster the issue of self-harm everywhere with no real objective other than to tell people it is happening.

The focus needs to be on support rather than sensationalism. Helplines, advice, treatment options and information on self-harm would more likely be helpful to a young person. There is need of balance where self-harm is reported, but followed with support which is available to young people. In so doing, we can assist in helping someone who self-harms much more than a graphic image online can.