The numbers don’t matter

A few weeks ago, for the last episode of SBS Insight, the covered the topic of self harm and the reasons that people do it.  I talked about my reasons here and if you want to check out the show you can find it here.  I came away from the story feel a little disheartened.  Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe it was something that is better covered in a one on one interview.  I’m not sure.

One aspect of the show that I found troubling, and that I thought was not useful to the overall message was the host asking each speaker how many times they had self harmed.  Most of the guests did flippantly answer the question, giving a vague number and for that I am glad.  I would hate for something that has the potential to educate to cause a person to feel that they are not enough.

I’m not going to go into how many times I have self harmed, the number is irrelevant.  A person is not worse off, more sick or worthy of more sympathy because of the number of times they hurt themselves.  Nor for the number of years they have engaged in said behaviour.  Is a person less of a victim because they were *only* raped once?  No, they aren’t, so why is a person seen as worthy of more treatment if they hurt themselves more than another person.

I really felt that Insight did a disservice to the platform they had for helping to raise the stigma around self harm.  I felt that the questions surrounding how many times a person had harmed trivialised the issue, turned it into a competition, something to be gasped at.  I fail to understand what possible purpose that line of questioning had in the overall message.

Mental Illness is self absorbed.  No ones pain is more or less because of another persons measure of that pain.  If a person feels in mental anguish, then they are.  It is no right of another person to tell them that they are not enough.

I am glad that Insight decided to cover the topic of Self Harm.  While I was unsatisfied with it, I was glad that it was talked about in a reasonably respectful manner.  I am glad that there were people who were brave enough to go on national television to speak about their struggles.  We need to keep having these conversations.  We need to stop sweeping it under the rug, hoping that it will go away.  We need to continue to educate those who are unaware of the struggles that many people face.

I’m linking up with Robomum Blog today for our last The Lounge of 2013.  It has been an absolutely awesome year of link ups and I want to thank everyone who took the time to share their stories with us.  We look forward to sharing many more in 2014!


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18 thoughts on “The numbers don’t matter

  1. Emily

    I missed it, but I’ll be looking for it. Beautifully written post, Tegan: this line in particular really reached me: “No ones pain is more or less because of another persons measure of that pain.”

  2. Becc

    I am sorry that it fell short. Having a very close friend of mine just reveal that she had hurt herself and was taken away by the police makes this topic one that is close to my heart.
    Hopefully, the show has inspired others to create awareness and they will stay away from the issue of who has done it the most.

  3. Neets

    Great post Tegan. I watched the show and have to agree with you about the fact that it was totally made into a numbers game.
    I walked away not knowing a lot about the topic at all.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts x

  4. Grace

    I’m so bummed I missed it. But I agree, numbers don’t matter.
    I guess this society we’re still working out on how to approach the topic as for so long it’s been taboo. And it’s a great thing that people like you are speaking up.

  5. EssentiallyJess

    I always love reading your view on this kind of stuff, because it opens my eyes to something I hadn’t seen before. Do you think there is very marked difference between someone on the verge of self harm, and those that actually do it? Does the latter have more pain or do they just express it differently I wonder? And does it really matter anyway? Because like you said, mental anguish is mental anguish.
    You’ve really got me thinking now.

    1. Tegan Post author

      I think someone on the verge of self harm is probably already doing it anyway just in more socially acceptable ways. The thing with self harm is that it manifests in many different ways, but the one thing that it has across the board is using it to escape mental anguish. It is when it becomes an issue in the persons life that it needs to be addressed, which for obvious reasons is why cutting or burning is generally treated as an extreme response. It’s also when that way of coping becomes all that the person can think of, like an addiction.

  6. Bec @ The Plumbette

    I didn’t watch the show but I’d like to see it now. I agree that it’s a subject that needs to be talked about. I’d love to know what I can do to help someone thinking about doing self harm. What is the right thing to say? Will they believe me if I tell them that their awesome or will their mind refute what I tell them? Thanks Tegan for expanding my understanding with this issue.

    1. Tegan Post author

      You’ve given me some great inspiration for a blog post actually. I get asked frequently what people should do or say to someone who is self harming or thinking about it.

  7. Emma Fahy Davis

    You are (as usual) so right – just because one person’s mountain is another person’s molehill doesn’t make it any less significant, painful or real.
    The danger with associating numbers with these kinds of things too is that it becomes almost like a challenge – oooh look, Person A did it x number of times and I only did it y, I need to up my game! I believe that happens a lot with eating disorders too.
    I’ve not ever been a self-harmer in the sense of cutting or burning, but I’d certainly go so far as to say my addictions are a form of self-harm – behaviours that I know are self-destructive yet continued to do for many, many years because they gave me a release.
    Brilliant post as always xx

  8. Lara @ This Charming Mum

    I didn’t see it, but you make some really valid points. These shows play an important role in educating the public, but there still seems to be a need from a bit of ‘shock value’ to draw people in. How awful for anyone to feel that their self harming was somehow not AS harmful as someone else’s. Have you contacted the program and given them your feedback?

  9. Jaz @ Red Dolls

    I never hurt myself but I was a drug addict (the illicit kind not pharmaceutical kind) but I think that falls under the same umbrella. Where an emotion has become so ingrained into someones psyche that there becomes no way of resolving it or expressing it without some sort of personally damaging behaviour. We all have different triggers and reasons and all have different ways of dealing with things, one thing have I learned though is things do get better and there is a light at the end of tunnel….

  10. Lisa Wood

    I have never thought about the Aspect of Self Harm. Will be keeping that in mind when dealing with my family member who is living with mental illness every single day.
    Its not something that is an easy topic to talk about yet people talk about “Cancer Treatment” or “Beating Cancer” – wished we could talk the same about “Mental illness Treatment” or “Mental illness Survivor” – good to see the media embracing the topic.


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