Self Harm isn’t Contagious

*The following post talks about self harm and may be triggering.  Before reading, please ensure that you are in a safe place mentally.  If you or someone you know needs help then please speak to your GP or head to emergency if treatment is urgently needed.*

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I was 14 when I first started to self harm.  I remember what I used, but I don’t remember how I felt.  More importantly I didn’t know where I got the ‘idea’ that self harm would help in any way.  This seemed to be one of the most prevalent question when I first saw a Dr.  Where had I ‘learned’ to self harm, because clearly this was nothing more than a teenage peer pressure issue.

I grew up in a small country town, I’m talking population of around 300 people here.  The town where I went to high school had more, at a small 1800.  I was the only person at my high school who engaged in self harm.  It was uncharted territory for those around me.  So, it was also decided that I obviously had an influence on those around me, and in some people’s eyes, I was a bad influence.  A girl who I went to school with started harming herself, it was my fault, clearly.

Anyone who has self harmed will tell you that they wouldn’t wish the feelings on anyone.  It’s like an addiction.  You have to keep doing more and more to get that same ‘hit’.  I have written about self harm and the myths surrounding it here, here, here and here.

Statistics (page 108) show that there has been an increase in the rate of hospitalisations for self harm from 1990-2011.  Some people believe that the reason for this increase is because it is now more in the open, and teenagers are exposed to it more often.  I call bullshit.  Firstly, I believe that the reason for the increase is because it’s something that is more widely accepted, and so young people are seeking help for self harming behaviour earlier.  I must also point out that of the 26,000 self harm cases that resulted in hospitalisation, there is most likely another 10 cases where the person did not seek hospital treatment.

The first point I would like to make is that self harm is more than just the action of harming oneself.  Self harm is not a disorder on its own and is often response to something deeper that is causing the person distress.  It is this thought that leads me to believe that self harm, in its true form is not something that teenagers can ‘catch’ by observing one of their peers engaging in the behaviour.

I also believe that actions of self harm that are performed in order to fit in with a peer group will often peter out once its no longer deemed cool to do anymore.  Remember the ‘smilies’ created by placing a lighter against your skin to create a smiley face?  Those would be the perfect example.  If a teen continues to self harm after their peers have moved on, then I believe that there are deeper issues that need to be addressed.

In saying that, the way that teenagers access support and interact with their peers has dramatically changed over the last 10 years.  There are places that teenagers are able to go who romanticize the act of self harm and turn the scars into something to be desired.  However these kinds of sites have been around for a long time, for different self harming behaviours (pro eating disorder sites for example) and I just think that this generation are lot more tech savvy than those before them.  I also don’t think that it’s fair to lump all people who self harm into one basket of people who think that the behaviour is something to aspire to.

Lastly, and from a completely emotive point of view, it royally pisses me off that people believe that someone seeing my scars, or when I was actively engaging in self harm, bandages and wounds, would lead them to think that harming themselves would be awesome to do.  Do people think the same about those who have broken their arm or leg through non self harm activities?  Would you shield your teen from hanging out with someone because they broke a bone on the school holidays?

Linking up with Jess for IBOT.

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18 thoughts on “Self Harm isn’t Contagious

  1. Amy

    I had more than one friend who self-harmed as a teen. I didn’t think about trying it, instead I tried to help them. Its a hard behaviour to watch as I’m sure you know. I’m glad you’re no longer actively hurting yourself and good on you for speaking up- like anything, the more we talk about it, the smaller the stigma becomes xx

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      I’m glad that you tried to help your friend. One of my friends now self harms, and even though I do understand, it’s hard to watch.

      Reply
  2. Me

    If only more people spoke up and acknowledged the issue of self harming, maybe more people would seek assistance.
    Lotsa hugs
    Me xox

    Reply
    1. Tat

      Absolutely agree. Plus the more people know about it, the more likely they are to choose not to engage in this type of behaviour in the first place.

      Reply
    2. Tegan Post author

      Absolutely, and maybe a lot of teens could receive the help they so desperately need, when they need it instead of falling through the cracks.

      Reply
  3. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    Yes I remember those smiley faces from years ago. I hope people that have preconceived ideas read this.. it must have been hard in a small hick town, I grew up in one too, population 80 maybe? Not even a town, so I know the kind of place you are talking about x

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      It’s definitely an experience. Doctors used to say to my parents that they were ‘lucky’ we lived in a small town because it did reign in a lot of the worse stuff I could have done.

      Reply
  4. Druimé@SnippetsandSpirits

    To be honest Tegan I dont really know much about self harm. It was not something I ever came across but maybe that is the point exactly it is not spoken about. I do not for a second believe that it is becoming for want of a better word more cool! Really brave post again Tegan !

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      Thanks Druime. I don’t think it’s more cool, and I often what on earth adults think is ‘cool’ about it.

      Reply
  5. Lucy @ Bake Play Smile

    Tegan I love that you are educating people through these posts. Even though I think I know about a this topic, when I read this I realise there’s so much more to know. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. xx

    Reply
  6. Kathy

    I can’t understand why people think self-harm would be ‘contagious’. Of course peer pressure can lead teens to do lots of silly things and it is in the nature of teen rebellion to experiment, but it’s important for parents and people in general to be educated by brave people like you who are prepared to speak about the complexities of mental illness so they really understand.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      I think that there probably is instances where a teen might do it because of peer pressure, but I do think that these cases tend to be on a shorter term basis and are stopped once it’s brought out into the light. However I think it’s still important to talk to the teens in question, because it’s not something that should ever be taken lightly.

      Reply
  7. Carla

    It definitely seems a lot more common nowadays doesn’t it. A friend of ours, her daughter went to an all girls school and apparently it was endemic amongst a lot of them. So sad.
    I’ve never self harmed like this, so I can’t imagine, but I can only assume a person must feel incredibly down to need to do such a thing x

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      I wonder if, like most things, because we are talking about it more and more is known about it, then it seems that it is more common.

      Reply
  8. Chantell

    A brave topic to write about, Tegan…Well done! I have a history of self-harming too; just recently got a tattoo across my forearm to cover my scars ~ not that I am ashamed of them, but I guess I wanted to turn some bad memories into a happier one 🙂 I also have struggled for years with purging, which is a form of self-harm too, related to an eating disorder as you briefly mentioned…I agree with you regarding the topic of teenagers and self-harm seemingly being more common these days…I don’t think it is a peer pressure thing or a popularity trend at all ~ I suppose it is just becoming more accepted to talk about in general, therefore more teens are feeling able to speak up….But there are still many more who struggle on in silence, people just don’t realise…

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      One of my friends got a tattoo for similar reasons.
      There most likely are a lot of people who suffer in silence, and I wonder sometimes if it is the stereotypes of what a person who self harms is, that keeps them from saying anything.

      Reply

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