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The secret shame of self-harming

Tomorrow is Self Injury Awareness Day. If you have a friend who is self-harming, this would be a good time to let them know that they are not alone and there is hope.

If you are having difficulty with self-harm, I know how frightening it is to admit that you cannot do this alone, but I encourage you to confide in a safe person.

This day is partly about dispelling the myths and prejudices around self-harm that keep the problem shrouded in shame and secrecy. Self-harm affects men and women of all ages. I started self-harming as a child, and didn’t stop until I was into adulthood; it is not exclusively a teenage behaviour. It is not a suicide attempt — it is an attempt to deal with overwhelming emotions, often because better coping mechanisms haven’t been learned yet. It is typically not intended to be attention-seeking, though even when it is, the fact that a person feels that hurting themselves is their best way of getting attention is a clear sign that they are in need of help. Self-harm is seldom spoken about openly. My hope is that this letter might reach people who feel alone in the problem, or that it might encourage a more gentle attitude towards something that is very difficult to understand from the outside.

As a recovered self-harmer, I can tell you that finding out you are not alone is a huge part of getting better. The next part is finding that there are resources out there. For example, typing ‘low fee counselling’ and the name of your city into Google is a good way of finding affordable help; there are also free resources like pieta.ie and samaritans.ie that exist to help those in emotional distress. Self-harm is more prevalent than people think. It is not easy to stop, but the first step is reaching out and asking for help.

James O’Leary
Elm Park


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