Myth#4 If someone harms themselves they’re just attention seeking

Trigger warning – this blog focuses on self harm, if you think you may be adversely affected by the content, please turn away before reading any further.
This the forth in a series of myth busting blogs. You’ll find links to the others at the bottom, please read and share – we need to break down this misunderstanding and stigma!
If someone harms themselves it’s because of some inner turmoil, people turn to self harm when other forms of coping have failed. Self harm is on a wide spectrum from drinking every night (to dull stressful feelings) through to parasuicidal behaviour such as taking an overdose.
The self harm may be a way of relieving the mental pain, sometimes it’s a form of punishment, sometimes it’s a way of converting the mental pain into physical pain that’s more manageable. Some people do it because words are beyond reach, some because words just don’t feel enough.
People who self harm are not deliberately seeking attention, most do not want attention at all and will do anything to hide the results of their self harm. However, although they do not want attention, the likelihood is, they need it – we are all human beings who need love and attention in order to survive – someone with mental illness is no different.
This phrase ‘just attention seeking’ has become dismissive and prevents the sufferer getting the support and treatment they need. It may be a difficult and scary behaviour to encounter but we need to see self harm as a symptom, just like low mood, insomnia or decreased appetite in order to ensure anyone who self harms gets the treatment they need.
It is common for people with borderline personality disorder to harm themselves but people who self harm can have any diagnosis (or none). It is a common misconception, even amongst mental health professionals that people who self harm automatically have a diagnosis of BPD, misdiagnosis is unhelpful and even dangerous.
I’ve struggled with various forms of self harm, at times it’s attracted unwanted attention, I’ve been judged and have been badly treated by people in authority. At the time I thought I deserved it, but now I realise it was very wrong.
Just like suicide is a death caused by mental illnesses (not a crime that has been committed) self harm is a symptom of mental illness, we need to change our language to break down the stigma and discrimination that all too often seen in Emergency Departments, within mental health services and in the general population.
Myth#1 – Mental illness is a sign of weakness
Myth#2 – Men need to get in touch with their feminine side to show their emotions
Myth#3 – Bipolar is more serious than depression and it’s preferable to have anorexia over bulimia

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