Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Picking up a blade was the worst decision of my life,” she says looking dejected at her wrists.
March 1st marked Self Harm Awareness Day, however the knowledge of this subject hardly surpasses most stereotypes of attention seekers, troubled souls and desperate teens.

The World Health Organization discovered that 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression; approximately 20 % of teenagers succumb into the disturbing realm of self-mutilation. What is causing this troubled adolescence and the lives that just began are already appealed by pain.

“I never thought I had a choice, I picked up a sharp object every time I was bullied, mistreated or called a freak” she continues, “I started cutting at a very young age, it felt bizarre as I was unaware that there were more people like me. I never knew this was a prevalent concern in many other countries.”

Sadly, it is true, self-harm is more than a problem; it is an addiction. A background in bullying, sexual harassment, troubled relationships, parent or peer pressures are the key reasoning for ‘cutting’ teenagers. Whilst organizations like ‘To Write Love On Her Arms’ and venture initiations like ‘Butterfly project’ are few support systems, trying to hear the cry of self-mutilators and help them quit, there are more who have found ‘solace’ in the arms of physical agony to deal with mental trauma and are not ready to let this craving go.

We spoke to Clare Smart, Counselor at LifeWorks Counseling and Development Dubai, who broke stereotypes and gave an insight on the cognitive reasons for teenagers inflicting pain on themselves.

1. For people who believe, self harm is a way of seeking attention, what would you say to them?

Majority of the people that do self harm, do so in private and go to great lengths to keep it secret. To dismiss it as attention seeking is likely to have a massive impact on that young person seeking or accepting any help. The reaction of the first person to be aware/told about self harm is the most important one. The individual should try not to appear shocked but to be supportive, caring and offer to help that person to seek help. 

2. How harsh is the status of self-harming amongst teenagers in Dubai. Can you share a story of a teen that has been a victim of self-harm?
There is a stigma attached to people self harming. I do not have any official statistics on numbers specific to Dubai but from clinical experience there are as many cases as in other parts of the world. I do feel that young people are often judged and told that they are attention seeking or simply to stop doing what they are doing. This does not help the young person as they need help to learn alternative ways of coping with the emotional pain that they are experiencing that is possibly the reason that they are inflicting physical pain on themselves.

3. How can one suffering from self-mutilation deal with the situation?

The first thing is to speak to someone that you trust, that could be a parent or teacher or someone else. Counseling can help enormously to stop you self-harming in a safe and supportive and non judgmental manner. There are lots of reasons that people may begin to self harm and it is important to talk about these and the associated feelings in order to move forwards to a future with healthy and safe ways to cope with distress.

4. What are the psychological reasons that one becomes numb to inflicting pain on oneself?
People often describe the physical pain of self harming as a release from the emotional pain that they are in. They might feel that physical pain is easier to cope with than emotional pain. 

The reasons that people self harm vary. There may be a past trauma or past or current abuse in their lives. They might have a troubled home or family life. They might have symptoms of depression or anxiety that are difficult to cope with. They may feel that it is the only aspect of control that they have in an otherwise uncontrolled life. They physical pain of self harming may be the only thing that they feel when they are otherwise numb inside.

The girl referred in the feature wishes to remain anonymous.

By Heena Makhijani