Self harm is usually seen as an uncomfortable topic that people avoid discussing, but with the work that To Write Love On Her Arms and other similar organizations do, it seems like the stigma is being lifted. What are your thoughts on that?
You’re right – people don’t like discussing issues like self harm because it is uncomfortable to bring it up. Recently though, it’s been a topic that’s receiving more and more attention, which is a good thing. By bringing the issue of self harm to light we help shed the shame and guilt that surrounds it so we can begin the process of healing. I’ve talked with 60-year-olds who self harmed when they were teenagers and they talk about the fact that there wasn’t even a word for it back then and they thought they were the only ones. Now that the conversation has been started, we are beginning to see a level of awareness where people who need help know where to find it.
With online forums becoming more and more popular, have you seen an increase in the number of people turning to these anonymous avenues to deal with their self harm?
The number of people turning to online channels is increasing, but we still don’t know how many people that is. It’s estimated that only 10% of people who self harm actually tell other people that they are struggling with it because they feel afraid or ashamed. This makes it very difficult to get accurate information about how many people are self harming.
In the anonymous Q&A posted yesterday, the individual said that they were often triggered to self harm by the photos other people posted about their own self inflicted injuries. How do you walk the line between raising awareness about this issue without posting content that triggers self harm.
That’s a big issue because sometimes people who are trying to help use graphic wording or images and unknowingly trigger others to self harm. At To Write Love On Her Arms, we focus on safe messaging. What that means is that we don’t post details or images of self harm because using graphic material can trigger negative coping mechanisms which focus on the end result rather than the solution. Instead, we focus on a strong message of hope and healing.
What are the dangers of online communities when it comes to self harm and where can individuals get structured help?
Anything online is a slippery slope because although things can start out in a helpful way, the people turning to the forums are looking for an immediate response and if they don’t get that, it just reinforces the lie that no one cares about them or their situation.
One of the main reasons people are attracted to online forums is the anonymity because they aren’t ready to let others know what they’re dealing with. However, when sending an email to someone or calling a help hotline, you are not required to give a name and it can be anonymous. The benefit is that the people responding to you are trained to help, unlike those posting on online forums. That is one of the reasons To Write Love On Her Arms doesn’t have an online forum. We don’t have enough trained people to monitor conversations and provide immediate crisis intervention.
Self harm can often be thought of as a taboo topic. What advice would you give to the parent who suspects their child might be self harming and how would they open up that conversation?
The most important thing is to make sure that you come to your child from a position of love and support. These situations can be difficult and delicate and yelling at them in anger only complicates the issue and teaches them to not to open up to you.
It’s also important to be informed. If you are educated about what your child might be dealing with, then you are in a better position to offer the support they need. Many people are often misinformed and think that self injury is just a way to attract attention or that people who self injure are suicidal, but the reality is that most people who self injure are not suicidal and are not trying to attract attention.
If you visit www.twloha.com and click on the “Learn” button at the top you’ll find information and facts that give insight into self injury and other important issues that teens struggle with.