Monday, March 12, 2007

The Difference between Self-Harm and Suicide.

Dear John O,

Thank you for your emails, which I always read with interest and concern, and usually respond as best I can to calls for action.

I had to respond to this one, though, because of the way you are classing self-harm and attempted suicide as one and the same thing. This is just factually incorrect and very misleading.

There are many reasons why people self-harm, but it is most frequently a coping mechanism, indeed something which people can use in an attempt to *prevent* themselves getting to the point where they may end up attempting or committing suicide.
Some info:

There are probably as many reasons for self-harming as there are self-harmers.

Some people find that when they self-harm they experience a "release" which they cannot achieve in any other way. This can be a huge relief if feelings of depression, anger, self-hatred, fear or anxiety are becoming overwhelming.

Others find that when emotional pain becomes unbearable, if they hurt themselves in some way it transfers the pain to physical pain on the body. For many, physical pain (e.g. from a cut or a burn) is much easier to deal with than deep emotional pain.

On a similar note, some people find that hurting themselves physically gives them more control over their pain and their lives. Whereas it is difficult to control the emotional pain you may feel, if you then take charge of the pain and are in control of it, this can seem easier to deal with.

On the surface it could appear that self harming is similar to suicidal behaviour, especially if people are cutting their wrists, or overdosing. However for an awful lot of people, self harm is known to prevent suicide. By the means I mentioned above, self harm can take the edge off overwhelming feelings, and thus make someone less likely to attempt or commit suicide.

Some people self harm as a way of punishing themselves. If they feel guilty for something they have done, said or thought, they may then cut or burn or otherwise harm themselves because it is what they feel they deserve. Often the "punishment" is much more severe than is warranted, for example someone slashing their wrists because they overslept.

Self harm can also be anger turned inwards. For women in today's society, showing outward signs of anger is a socially unacceptable behaviour so if someone angers them, instead of shouting at them or taking their anger out in other ways, they may self harm to get rid of the supposedly unacceptable angry feelings.

There is also a scientific theory which could explain some people's self harming behaviours too. This is the theory that when we are in physical pain, endorphins ("happy" chemicals) are released into the body, leading to something resembling a "high". So when someone is feeling especially down or depressed, self harming could lead to a boost of endorphins which could make them feel better, albeit temporarily.

I would actually be surprised if incidents of true self-harm were not higher than those you quoted below. The disgraceful number of attempted suicides is probably much smaller than the incidences of self-harm which may often be well hidden and never receive medical treatment. So by merging the two in your mail you are possibly even downplaying the actual number of self-harm incidents.

Thanks for reading, hippie

John O wrote:

> ===========
> NCADC News Service
> ===========
> Self-Harm in Immigration Removal Centres
> Every other day a detainee incarcerated in a UK Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), makes an attempt at self-harm (suicide), serious enough to require medical treatment.
> In the 10 months from April 2006 to January 2007 there were 176 attempts to self-harm that required medical treatment. That is one incident of self-harm every 1.7 days.
> In the same period, 1,643 detainees were put on 'Formal Self-Harm at Risk'.
> Detainees and campaigners believe the actual numbers are way higher than those reported.
> Since the first Immigration Removal Centre opened in the UK, there have been 10 deaths from self-harm.
> Number of incidents of Self-Harm requiring medical treatment January 2007
> Campsfield House 1
> Colnbrook 12
> Dover 4
> Dungavel 0
> Harmondsworth 1
> Haslar 0
> Lindholme 0
> Oakington 1
> Tinsley House 0
> Yarl's Wood 1
> Number of individuals on 'Formal Self-Harm at Risk' January 2007
> Campsfield House 0
> Colnbrook 77
> Dover 10
> Dungavel 9
> Harmondsworth 3
> Haslar 3
> Lindholme 3
> Oakington 3
> Tinsley House 5
> Yarl's Wood 15
> A full break down for the 10 months April 2006 to January 2007;
> 46 asylum seekers/migrants in the UK, have taken their own lives (since 2000)
> 30 in the community - 6 in prisons
> 10 in Immigration Removal Centres
> Details:
> End of Bulletin:
> Source for this Message:
> Disclaimer:
> NCADC's email bulletins are an important part of our work in educating the public on immigration, asylum and anti-deportation issues. As part of that work our bulletins hosts news and views from different individuals, organisations and campaigns working in the same field as us.
> The contents of this bulletin are the sole responsibility of the author/s and should not be taken as endorsement of any kind by NCADC.
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> ========================
> National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC)
> 110 Hamstead Road
> Birmingham
> B20 2QS
> ========================


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Anonymous said...

thank you so much for writing this post. I stopped cutting years ago (I still smoke and binge drink, which I believe to be related to/forms of self harm) but I still live with the desire to cut whenever a situation gets beyond my control. At my worst I was cutting up both arms and legs, opening barely healed wounds nearly every day. I never, ever wanted to die. I never wanted anyone to know about my self-harming. Now, years after, I understand what caused my desire to cut myself (living in a heteronormative society, as a gay teenager). I have never attempted suicide, I have never even seriously thought of doing so, I just dealt with the overwhelming feelings of anger, frustration and fear that I was experiencing, in the only feasible way at the time. Again, thank you for clarifying the chasmic distinction between self-harm and suicide.

Anonymous said...

wow. this was not what i thought i'd find as i opened your blog ( from a flickr group)

but thanks for having the balls to write about this. i have bipolar, and would self-harm through various means, at various stages... but it doesn't mean im suicidal though. i hate the misconception of this issue. hopefully more people will finally 'get it' so assistance and 'statistics' can be properly utilised.

Vanessa Vega said...

As someone who has struggled with self-injury for more than 30 years, I know how little is known about this disorder. It is hard for people who don't SI to understand how a person can cut themselves and not want to die. That was never the motivation behind my behavior! For me, physical pain was much easier to deal with than emotional pain. Period.
I have undergone months of intensive therapy and have come to understand some of the motivating factors behind my behavior. As a result, I have just celebrated my first year of being injury free!! I am coming forward and sharing my story in the hopes of reaching out to others who are struggling, but also to educate those who don't truly understand what SI is. I have a blog and would love visitors and comments!