Self-harm is a broad term and covers a wide variety of actions, thoughts and feelings. People may hurt themselves by cutting, biting, scratching or burning their skin. Or by taking drugs, or an overdose, or misuse alcohol, or have a pattern of risky behaviour, or… lots of different methods.
Quite often, Self-harm goes on behind closed doors and nobody notices until after it becomes addictive and is part of routine behaviour. This could be months afterwards or immediately depending on the severity of injury or how convincing the ‘I’m fine’ visage is.
Self-harm in young people is at an “epidemic level” in the UK, according to Marjory Wallace, Chief Executive for mental health charity SANE. She also said “The ways of self-harm have become more aggressive.”
Self-harm is a way of expressing anguish. People may not even know why they self-harm. It’s a form of communication which doesn’t articulate though thoughts, words, or sound. It’s been described as an inner scream, a satisfying or pleasurable release of pressure that is felt, because one is only able to feel sensation during the act. For a short while afterwards, life seems more manageable yet as the behaviour is cyclic, more episodes trigger and over time can escalate to unsafe levels.
The reasons and behaviours for self-harm are not, however the focus of this 4 part photo essay, these photographs intentionally visualise self-harm, from a different view.
As human beings, we don’t normally enjoy looking at imagery of harm. For instance, when confronted with a photograph of a victim who has been assaulted, we can see the aftermath of the attack in a cut face, a black eye, or some other form of injury to the person. What’s worse is knowing the attack actually happened, two people have been at conflict and one has damaged the other. It may have been quick, or prolonged and with varying degree of pain. If you’ve seen the photograph, you’ve had the proof. – There is a perpetrator and there is a victim.
Suppose, for a moment that self-harm can be viewed as attack to one’s self.
The attacker and victim are one and the same, and self-harm is instantly stigmatised because the assault is labelled self-harm and becomes ‘Mental Health’. Stigma breeds fear in those who are suffering which makes ‘coming out’ even more difficult. It can be challenging to ask for help and the stress of this may also exacerbate the problem. Many people self-harm in secret, behind closed doors, away from other people. If psychical wounds or scars are prevalent, they can be covered by clothing or jewellery, if the scars are mental, they may be much easier to hide. If you can’t see the wounds, you may not know someone needs help.
I wonder how we would react if, during the times when the need to self-harm is strong, we could divide ourselves into two separate people and harm the other. Because attacker and victim are now two separate people, self is removed and attack remains.
If society could see that self-harm can be is just as serious as other forms of psychological and physical assault maybe there would be more understanding and more willingness to help those who suffer from self-harm.