Suicide and Self-harm

“Other times, I look at my scars and see something else: a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have had to live through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They’re part of my history that’ll always be there.”
― Cheryl Rainfield, Scars

Trigger warning: Topics discussed are suicide, self-harm, cutting, burning, shame, and negative self-talk among other triggering topics.

Here is a link to an InsideChats educational talks post if you want more information on warning signs, risk factors, symptoms, coping skills and protective factors: https://inside-chats.com/?p=334

Understanding the terms

In order to understand how self-harm and suicide impact the person dealing with these concerns we first need to understand the term itself. According to NAMI “Self-harm or self-injury means hurting yourself on purpose. One common method is cutting with a sharp object. But any time someone deliberately hurts themself is classified as self-harm. Some people feel an impulse to cause burns, pull out hair or pick at wounds to prevent healing. Extreme injuries can result in broken bones” (n.d.). We need to also take into consideration emotional self-harm which can manifest in self-destructive behaviors, self-sabotaging behaviors, and negative self-talk. All these forms of self-harm can stem from a history of trauma, depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.

Signs and Symptoms

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Wearing long sleeved clothing on hot days
  • Stating that injuries or accident or due to clumsiness
  • Tends to isolate
  • Challenges with relationships
  • Keeping sharp objects close by
  • Stopping once enjoyed activities
  • Impulsive

Physical Symptoms

  • Scars
  • Fresh scratches or cuts
  • Bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Patches of missing hair

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Ongoing questions about personal identity
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness

Psychological Symptoms

  • Emotional numbing
  • Emotional instability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Increased anxiety, unable to self-injure
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Disgust

Valley Behavioral Health System. (n.d.). Signs and symptoms of self-harm. Retrieved from https://www.valleybehavioral.com/disorders/self-harm/signs-symptoms-causes/

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One of the Taboos

We have went over the terms self-harm and suicide as well as looked at the warning signs for self-harm. Now we need to address self-harm for what it really is, a taboo. It’s a global issue, which has been frowned upon in all cultures and it has caused people to suffer in silence. Have you ever seen someone, maybe a loved one or friend who ensures that even on scorching days they were a long sleeved shirt or long pants it may indicate that they may be self-harming and are ashamed of anyone seeing the scars or fresh cuts or bruises. In most cultures when someone is self-harming the community tends alienate them and push them to the point of extreme isolation and severely low self-esteem.

Statistically women self-harm more than men, and adolescents or young adults more than adults. Someone who engages in self-harming behaviors may have risk factors such as alcohol and/or drug use, mental health disorders, having friends who self-harm, and an unstable sense of self.

In the Caribbean culture it is extremely frowned upon so those who self-harm tend to cover it up with clothing or with words, “Oh the cat or dog was playing too rough” or “I was clumsy and hurt myself”. Excuses will be the greatest defense for someone who self-harms yet the excuses aren’t enough so doubt is placed upon that person and the trust wains. Once the alienation starts the sadness worsens and can lead to suicide attempts and possible completion of suicide.

The Last Straw

As mentioned above there are warning signs of suicide which indicate if a person may be in acute danger and may urgently need help but there are also risk factors which are characteristics that increase the chances that an individual will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. When someone is suicidal they generally have suicidal ideations that lead to suicide attempts. In the Caribbean, suicide is not discussed unless an attempt is made and the community becomes aware of it but it’s only a topic of discussion for a short period of time until it becomes hush-hush again. I have witnessed many Caribbean people struggle with suicidal ideation and have suicide attempts because they were afraid to seek help or reach out for services because they will be judged by their family or community. You can’t do what’s best for you because it will create a bad image for the family or so it’s believed in Caribbean culture.

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The Aftermath

If an attempt is made and is unsuccessful the person continues to suffer even if they were hospitalized because that memory lives with them. It may haunt them unless they receive help. But as we know in Caribbean culture seeking help isn’t an easy task, so suicide survivors may face shame, rejection, isolation, stigma, and ridicule. In the case that the attempt is successful the family will grieve and ruminate on the final times leading up to the death searching for answers and signs. Some family members or loved ones may even develop PTSD from the loss and struggle in silence. It may worsen if the trauma is re-lived involuntarily and results in intensified anxiety. The family members and loved ones will have questions and will want reasons, which they might not always get, or if they do they may not like the answers that they will find. A major risk that develops once a suicide attempt is made or suicide is completed is the possibility of another suicide attempt being made could occur due to the loss.

Hospitalization

People who self-harm don’t feel like they have an outlet and struggle without most knowing and a few who speak up and seek help have been put through the hospitalization process. Individuals who had suicide attempts and are taken to the hospital are either arrested and taken or taken by friends/family only to be traumatized by the hospitalization process. The process can be terrifying and anxiety-provoking which causes the person to feel isolated and may exacerbate the condition and suicidal ideation; however, on the flip side it may be the change that the person would need to seek help. The hospitalization experience varies but seeking help is always recommended because it’s better to tackle it than suffer in silence and take your life.

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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Reference

National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). (n.d.). Self-harm. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Self-harm

Valley Behavioral Health System. (n.d.). Signs and symptoms of self-harm. Retrieved from https://www.valleybehavioral.com/disorders/self-harm/signs-symptoms-causes/

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