For those who follow the Radio 4 soap, the Archers, the big storyline at the moment is the one that covers Helen, her abusive husband Rob and her having to face trial and the prospect of losing her children, having earlier attacked him, all of which I have covered in an earlier blog posting that I update from time to time. Things appear to be coming to a head with Helen’s trial starting next week, but there has been a recent interesting twist in the saga, and that relates to what happened to her fellow remand inmate, Kaz.
A few days ago Helen discovered Kaz at deaths door, having made what Helen thought was a suicide attempt. The good news is Kaz is out of danger and her suicide attempt was a case of self harm that nearly went wrong. According to one article titled: “Has Helen Titchener FINALLY been persuaded to face up to Rob?” and begins “SHE’S been burying her head in the sand as her court date looms, but The Archers character Helen Titchener may finally be about to see sense thanks to friend Kaz”. In a strange way, and quite creditably in my view, what happened to Kaz might be the spur for Helen to fight the pending case rather than succumb to the inevitable by letting Rob get his own way as normally happens.
It got me thinking about the issue of self harm. My first Google search hit helpfully began: “The phrase ‘self-harm’ is used to describe a wide range of behaviours. Self-harm is often understood to be a physical response to an emotional pain of some kind, and can be very addictive. Some of the things people do are quite well known, such as cutting, burning or pinching, but there are many, many ways to hurt yourself, including abusing drugs and alcohol or having an eating disorder. Sometimes, it’s more important to focus on how someone is feeling rather than what they do to themselves”. The website goes on to provide lots of useful information, and no doubt there is a lot of it out there. It is not my purpose here to offer a psychoanalysis of the self harm phenomenon, but rather to provide a personal perspective.
My first entrée into full time community work began around the turn of the millennium, when I helped to set up the project, “Growing Together”, which still continues although I have long since left the project. The project was centred around providing therapeutic gardening opportunities for those with mental health issues, and it was successful in helping many such persons. I learned much as a result of working on the project, making many discoveries about mental health in my 5 year involvement. One of the more surprising ones was the number of people who self-harmed, typically by cutting themselves but it was also manifest in other ways too, and even now I find it hard to quantify. I also found some of the most unlikely and nicest people self harmed and it was their way of dealing with the demons of depression etc. that seemed to do their ugly business in the lives of those who deserved so much better.
I will not end by coming up with some profound pontification of why people self harm and what needs to be done about it, for despite stating the obvious that self harming solves little and damages the sufferer, rarely are solutions that easy. If there is one thing I would say it is for us to be there in a kind and positive way for those who do or may self harm. They may include those you may not put in that category and will self harm differently. Like Helen Titchener, the best thing is to face your demons and like Kaz (I hope) find there is a better way than self harming. You may well ask why I write on this subject. I do so because I suffer depression and I do self harm (although in ways that appear to be hidden to the world). There are the demons I need to deal with and still find hard to talk about.
PS: I have surprised myself by discovering that I blogged on this subject some twenty months ago and had forgotten. Reading what I wrote at the time, spurred on by a disturbing report about school children self harming, it is just as pertinent now as it was then.