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People go to great lengths to protect themselves from pain and injury. But some people hurt themselves on purpose to help them deal with bad feelings or thoughts. This is called self-harm. People who self-harm don’t do it to end their life—instead, self-harm may be the best way they know to survive.

Young People: Self-injury

Self-injury (also called nonsuicidal self-injury or NSSI) is not uncommon: 15-20% of youth and young adults report self-injury. However, there are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions about self-injury, which can prevent people from getting help they need and working towards recovery. In this issue of Visions, learn more about self-injury, find strategies to help you in your own recovery, see how you can support a loved one, find support and resources, and learn from others who are navigating different parts of their own recovery journeys. 

Cutting Through the Urge

Although self-injury can be a very difficult experience, it is important to keep in mind that recovery is possible. Overcoming self-injury involves many things, particularly learning how to cope with urges to self-injure. There are various strategies that can help with this. One thing we know is that not all strategies work for everyone. In other words, what may work well for one individual who self-injures may not work well for another person. This is why it is important to recognize that there are many strategies, and that it may take time to find the strategies that work best.

Opening the Gate to Suicide Prevention

But wait a minute, you say: What does suicide and suicide prevention have to do with self-injury? It’s a good question. Self-injury is usually not about suicide at all. Instead, it is a way to deal with painful or challenging feelings. But it is not always possible to know the purpose of someone’s behaviour without first talking with the individual about this, taking time to listen and understand the reasons and intention behind the person’s actions.

You Can’t Know If You Don’t Ask

A recent study of high school students found that 83% of self-injuring teens asked for help for an emotional or behavioural problem, but only 59% told someone about their self-injury, and less than 10% talked about self-injury with an adult. This means that no news is not good news when it comes to a youth who may be struggling! If you’re worried that a teen or young adult in your life may be self-injuring, the best thing to do is ask him or her directly.

SHAREing Care

And so, one rainy afternoon, my friend Natasha and I tucked ourselves into a corner booth at Prado Café on Commercial Drive and began our first planning meeting to establish SHARE, a support group for people who self-harm. Natasha, whom I had met in a third-year psychology class, also struggled with self-harm and shared many of my frustrations. Accompanied by the intoxicating aroma of roast coffee and the low chatter of the other customers in the background, we delved into passionate discussion.

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