By Kelley Campbell & Kayla Scott
With the holidays coming up there’s a lot to look forward to, but the holidays can also bring on a lot of stress and anxiety. This can bring up some tough emotions and sometimes the possibility of some negative coping skills.
We thought it would be good to address some of these and remind you that there are positive coping skills and resources we can use instead.
Self-injury is when someone intentionally hurt themselves physically WITHOUT the intent to die by suicide. While self-injury isn’t a suicide attempt, individuals that have been self-harming for an extended period are at a higher risk for suicide ideology and possible attempts.
Self-harm is used as a negative coping skill and shares many of the risk factors of other negative coping skills – trauma, abuse, poor family communication, isolation, anxiety, bipolar and depression. This is not a complete list as self-injury can be a response to anything that causes emotional distress or pain.
For most self-injurers, the act of causing harm to oneself is an actual act to preserve their life by giving them a coping skill in order NOT TO attempt suicide.
Self-harm is NOT about trying to get attention. Actually, most people who self-harm are ashamed, depressed and generally do not want anyone to know what they are doing and will go to great lengths to hide it. Self-injurers don’t want to die, they want the pain to stop and are desperately trying to find a way to do that.
Just a few warning signs…
- Inappropriate dress for the season, such as long sleeves, hoodies or long pants worn consistently in summer.
- Unexplained scars, scratches, bruises, burns or other marks.
- Odd or unexplainable items such as razor blades, matches/lighters or other items.
- Emotionally and Physically distant.
Helping someone who is self-injuring…
- CALMLY ask them if they are hurting themselves and if they are contemplating suicide.
- Once it is established that this is NOT a suicide attempt listen to them. Ask what is making them hurt so much that they feel they need to hurt themselves.
- Assess the level of danger. Do their injuries require medical attention? If so seek medical attention immediately
- Ask questions … ask the person if there are certain triggers that seem to make this worse? Where on your body do you tend to injure yourself? What is making you hurt so deeply that you feel you need to hurt yourself? Ask simple questions that encourage them to share their experience.
- It is important to engage the person in the conversation about what some of the possible consequences may be to their behavior and what the next steps may be in order to find more positive coping skills.
- Don’t judge them. Remind them that you are their friend and love them and want to help them. Help them to seek professional help.
Some things to avoid if possible…
- When you ask them about their self-harming behavior try not to panic. Try to keep a calm tone of voice and body posture. It may be hard to see what they have don but remember for them to be hurting themselves means they are in an extreme amount of emotional pain. Actively listen to what they are telling you.
- Let them talk. Try not to talk over them or minimize their pain with your own but do let them know you understand they are hurting and you are there to help.
- Do not use phrases like get over it, your disappointed in them, what are you doing that for? are you crazy, etc. We want to stay away from negative comments and support them the best we can.
Some positive coping skills to help…
- Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
- Write down your feelings and then rip them up
- Hit pillows or cushions, or have a good scream into a pillow or cushion to vent anger and frustration
- Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut, or hold an ice-cube in the crook of your arm or leg
- Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel
- Put elastic bands on wrists, arms or legs and flick them instead of cutting or hitting
- Have a cold bath or shower
- Go online to a self-help website, chat room, or message board
- Exercise vigorously—run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
- Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
- Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
If anyone finds themselves or someone they love struggling and not really knowing where to find some support the following will be helpful.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – If you need help and want someone to talk to
- Samaritans call OR text : 1-877-870-4673 – If you are feeling isolated, Desperate or uncertain about anything in your life. The Line is open 24/7
- Emergency Services Program/Mobile Crisis Intervention: 1-877-382-1609 – In MA for immediate crisis evaluation call this number and enter your zip code; you will get the number of the closest ESP/MCI that serves you.
- For the Crisis Text Line, text “Listen” to : 741-741
- Peer Support Line: 1-877-733-7563 (Peer-Line) Open between 4 PM and 8PM any day of the week. A person who has been through the recovery process, in English and Spanish
- If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or crisis please 911 or go to your local emergency room immediately.
- NAMI COMPASS: 1-617-704-NAMI (6264) or toll free at 1-800-370-9085 – For assistance navigating the mental health system in MA call this number or visit http://namimass.org/resources/compass
Additional online resources:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: http://afsp.org
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: http://www.sprc.org/
National Institiute of Health: https://nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml
The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide: http://www.sptsusa.org
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/
Screening for Mental Health (SOS) https://mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/youth
Enjoy the holidays!