Illustration by Iris Harjo
Look around you, the girl next to you in class, your best friend, the person you have a crush on, your dad, any of them could be suffering in silence. Self-harm and suicide are two of the biggest issues plaguing today’s society, yet they are also some of the most avoided topics of discussion.
Consequently, most people never talk about it because they don’t feel safe enough to openly discuss it for fear of judgment, let alone reach out for help. On average, 1 in 12 teenagers self-harm by cutting, burning or risking their lives by behaving dangerously.
Societal opinion is that “choosing” to be happy can solve depression and anxiety issues, which often lead to self-harm, but that is a very controversial opinion. The difference between “feeling depressed or anxious” and “having anxiety and depression” is the consistency of the emotions.
Living with anxiety and depression is constant. It will not go away for a day or a week or forever just because one “makes the decision to be happy.” People who aren’t personally affected by a mental illness cannot comprehend the overwhelming emotions and ways mental illnesses affects an individual, let alone understand why they might resort to harming themselves to maintain some sort of reasoning.
Even if they go through treatment, people often try to avoid talking about it with family and friends for fear of judgment but without a large support system of trusted people, it can be hard to stay determined and keep from relapsing.
One of the biggest reasons victims continue to suffer in silence is a fear of being labeled as attention seeking or over-dramatic.
I would know because it took me a long time to reach out for help after I sat in a class and listened to one of my best friends make a joke about the difference between looking for attention by self-harming and looking to successfully kill oneself.
Self-harm is an issue I have personally been affected by and one of the biggest realizations it brought was seeing how many people in my environment were affected by the same issues but never felt safe enough to talk about it.
After hearing someone, whose opinion I cared about, make a joke about such a sensitive issue to my own life, I was scared to tell anyone because I was not trying to be attention seeking.
Only one person saw my self-harm scars before I openly showed people. I was very diligent about keeping them hidden. Self-harm for me was a way to make it through a panic attack without losing control and doing something worse such as attempting suicide, not about seeking attention.
Before I turned to self-harming, I would deal with a panic attack by releasing my pent up emotions on someone undeserving. Yelling at someone and blaming them for my problems helped me relax so I could resolve the rest of my issues by crying and hyperventilating alone in my room. Then I realized the people I was yelling at did not deserve that kind of verbal abuse.
The real problem with self-harm is a refusal to openly talk about the issue and have help available to the people who are suffering from it. If people did not see themselves and their issues as a social pariah that makes them stand out, they would be more open to talk about it.
So how can we make people afflicted with these problems feel safe to reach out for help? Open doors to show they can find help; show them we are supportive and care about them. Make support more available from counselors and trained professionals. However, speaking from experience, the easiest way to show someone you care and are supportive is check in with them and let them know someone is there to talk or hang out with when needed.
If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm or contemplating suicide, please consider reaching out to someone you trust or contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. For those recovering from self-harm, consider researching apps such as Calm Harm or other supportive outreach apps that provide something else to focus on rather than resorting to self-harm.
Contact Hannah Prentice at [email protected]