Yesterday was Self-Injury Awareness Day 2009, apparently, although it seems to have had little media impact. It is not clear to me how an “awareness day” is helpful. It makes self-injury seem like just another lifestyle choice. Ho-hum…
But self-injury is a sign that something is wrong, a sign that something needs to be fixed. It’s not just something that people do for entertainment. Giving self-injury a soft-focus image on this “awareness day” insults people who feel real pain.
It starts off well:
What is Self-Injury?
A good question, but things go rapidly downhill. The next sentence is just drivel:
Self-injury is any deliberate, non-suicidal behaviour that inflicts physical injury to a person’s own body.
Skateboarding? Getting your belly-button pierced? No — self-injury is when an act has no other purpose than causing pain or injury. All kinds of things are done deliberately, but incidentally happen to cause pain or injury. It makes no sense to classify all these things as self-injury.
What is it that makes people injure themselves? Whoever wrote this “factsheet” doesn’t know that either:
The injuries themselves can validate a person’s feelings, creating a ‘real’ pain that is easier to cope with than the hidden emotional pain.
No — the injuries invalidate the real feelings, making the real feelings less real. To validate something is to acknowledge it and make it more real. Self-injury has the opposite effect. It allows some conflict or difficulty to remain unacknowledged. That’s why people do it. They don’t do it because of already-hidden emotional pain, they do it in order to hide the emotional pain.
What about how to respond?
At LifeSIGNS we recognise that self-injury is a coping mechanism, and we never judge a person or tell them to stop.
What, never? Not even if the injury might cause permanent disability or death? These folks are quite mad.
I could go on and on about the misinformation in this so-called factsheet, but I think these examples illustrate what I think of it. The overall message is that parents and guardians should not really react too much when they find out that their children are deliberately harming themselves.
I profoundly disagree
I think that although self-injury is often pretty harmless it is not always harmless. Parents and guardians have a duty to judge whether their children might be doing themselves permanent harm or putting their lives at risk. To make that judgement, they need to see the injuries, understand exactly how they were made, and call on medical professionals to evaluate how serious the situation is. Always.
Coincidentally a blogger posted this yesterday, illustrating the point: My Experience With Self Harm
I also think that self-injury is not just a normal coping mechanism. It indicates a serious failure to cope. Parents and guardians are unlikely to be able to assess what has gone wrong and to fix it by themselves. Just ignoring a sign that things are seriously wrong and covering it up with the “childhood should be fun” approach in this factsheet will often result in things becoming seriously worse.
Coincidentally an NHS library service sent this notification yesterday, illustrating the point: Self-harm in first-episode psychosis
It seems to me that FirstSigns/LifeSigns should think harder about what kind of awareness they really want to promote. Perhaps many of them regularly self-injure, or did at one time, and perhaps their parents and guardians took little notice, but is that really the approach that they feel the rest of us should adopt towards our children? It’s not what I want to see. I’m relieved that their awareness day was widely ignored.
Thanks, though, to blogger Hannah for making me aware of the day in her post: SIAD 2009