A presentation by the facilitators of SHARE (self-harm and recovery for everyone) on self-harm and the support available, together with a personal account of living with the addiction and the road to recovery
The self-help group that Jane facilitates meets each Tuesday evening between 6 – 8pm at the Zion Centre in Hulme. No referrals are necessary (although due to the increased awareness of the group, some clients are told about it). It is a drop-in, which started 12 years ago, by Jane, and is very informal and friendly. Participants share their experiences and their desire to stop or manage their self-harm. They can bring family members or friends along for support. The aim of the group is not to instruct participants to stop and a non-judgemental approach is offered. It is a self-harm support group not a self-harm group!

Further support is by means of a Facebook group, which started with 10 members and now totals over 2,000. The page is moderated by Jane, who, initially, was somewhat averse to the idea of this way of sharing/supporting after being aware of other sites that may ‘encourage’ self-harm and post images that may not be helpful to those who are trying to manage or stop their self-harming.

The evening was highly informative. However, for me, the most important aspect of the presentation was the honesty and humility with which Jane shared her own story. She is a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend and had self-harmed secretly for 20 years. She is now in recovery for 7 years. At the age of 38, when Jane asked for help, she was told that she did not fit the age category, indicating the need for support for those aged over 25 and an awareness raising that selfharm does not only affect young people. Although Jane had a good GP and has appreciated counselling, she then began the support group. She realises that a support network is vital since, due to the secret and, at present, somewhat socially unacceptable nature of this addiction, people can become isolated.

I knew very little about self-harm at the beginning of the evening and learned that people do it for a variety of reasons including: wanting to feel ‘alive,’ the effect of which is gained from the rush felt on self-harming. For others, it is a physical release, almost a form of ‘medication,’ a way of rebalancing one’s life and regulating feelings whilst others do it to calm themselves. Self-harm can be used as a coping mechanism which then becomes a
habit. As the self-harming increases, there is risk that those who self-harm may kill themselves.

The question and answer session continued in an informal but instructive manner.

Q: Is there an increase in the number of those self-harming?
A: Who knows due to the secrecy surrounding this addiction. Women tend to use bleeding to injure themselves and men use drugs and alcohol. Men, who have been physically abused appear to be the largest group of those self-harming although there is no one ‘type’ of self-harmer.

Q: What can help people stop harming themselves?
A: A distraction list has been formulated in the group over a few weeks. This includes adult colouring books, lighting and watching a candle, music.

Q: What strategies do people use to stop harming themselves?
A: Look at when you last self-harmed and look to see what happened 20 minutes prior to that. Learn the trigger and try to cope with the trigger. Develop your personal awareness.

Q: Did you have a turning point in your self-harming?
A: I plucked up the courage to tell mum and then it was easier, from that point, to tell others. Mum bandaged me up and was supportive. The self-harm controlled me and I took control by slowly reducing the harming. If I used to do 10 cuts, I would try, the next time, only to do 9 etc…

I left feeling very impressed by Jane and the three members of the group who had come to support her. One said: ‘Self harming for adults needs to be out there more’ and another:’ It was a privilege to hear their stories and I appreciated their input greatly as, I feel, the rest of the audience did too’. On a final note, one group member stated that two attendances in the support group was more beneficial to her than six years in therapy – a sobering
thought to an audience of therapists….

Ann Wilson