Mental Health Awareness Month: Supporting a Loved One Who Self-Harms

May is National Mental Health Awareness month, during which open conversations about the state of mental health in our nation, communities, and homes are of paramount importance.

We’ve done much to improve the state of awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of these illnesses when compared to past generations. But we have much work yet to do in diminishing and eliminating the discrimination these individuals face.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Supporting a Loved One Who Self-Harms

As a writer, marketer, parent, and general inquiring mind, I consume content of all kinds. Recently, I came across a docuseries entitled Childhood 2.0 that I highly recommend. Here, creators outline trends scientists and doctors are seeing as it relates to this impact of technology and social media on mental health, including those most taboo — self-harm and suicide.

Little did I know, in a matter of days, our lives would once again be rocked with a reality check; someone I love was suffering from mental illness so severely, they had turned to self-harm.

I was filled with emotions ranging from fear to anger, from sadness to emotional paralysis. How could this happen? Why did I not see? What triggered these actions? Most importantly, how can I help stop this behavior and assist this person on their journey toward treatment and recovery?

With the information from Childhood 2.0 fresh in my mind, I did what we all do when seeking information and/or validation: Google. I’ve since formed the conclusion that, as a society, our path toward finally facing mental health is here.

Over the last year, rates of mental health issues have skyrocketed and become more extreme. According to an analysis completed by FAIR Health, a non-profit that reviewed 2020 medical records and insurance claims, self-harm among U.S. teens has increased by 99.9%. This review also concluded substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, and overdoses among 13-18 year old’s also saw sharp increases. Read the full article and whitepaper.

I’ve learned the single most important factor in increasing awareness, understanding, and support for individuals suffering from mental illnesses is the ability to talk openly about these situations, without fear of judgment or guilt.

If your child, sibling, parent, friend, or loved one opens up about self-harming, or even thoughts they may be having around attempting self-harm, there are a few important things you need to know and be willing to accept:

  1. Seek professional help: Evaluate the situation to determine whether immediate (physical) medical help is necessary; Work with your primary physician to coordinate psychiatric support as soon as possible
  2. Anger or explosive emotional reactions from you will make the situation worse; establish and maintain a level of calm; if you are unable to do so, ask for another adult to assist with communication until you are able to work from a place of calm
  3. Often, this behavior does not directly reflect a desire to end their life
  4. There may not be a single situation or event that led to this behavior, nor will there always be “difficult” or “horrific” life circumstance that “caused” this behavior
  5. These individuals are already managing extreme levels of guilt, which perpetuates repeat episodes; strive to remain as judgment-free as possible
  6. If this individual resides in your home, be prepared for some adjustments:
    • Remove or hide self-harm tools and/or utensils; check all the nooks and crannies, as it’s easy to forget the toolbox in the garage or the storage tote in the basement
    • Maintain a willingness to retain open dialog on a daily basis – check in with them, ask how they’re feeling, discuss if the day presented any triggers, etc.

Recovery is a journey, not a single leap of faith.

Counselors and/or trained therapists have methodologies your loved one will require guidance on in order to form new behaviors that promote healthy coping strategies. More than anything, they will need you along the way.

While mental health and self-harm are heavy topics — topics we often like to avoid or push into a locked closet — we cannot turn our backs on the many individuals waging these battles day-in and day-out.

They deserve our help, support, and most of all, love.

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Amber grew up Eastern Iowa. Coe College brought her to Cedar Rapids, but her love for the city and community made her stay. She and her husband of 15 years, Shannon, share a home in Marion with their two children (13 year old daughter & 10 year old son). Her passions include outdoor activities in our city’s many parks and trails, exploring unique, locally owned business, as well as all things creative. If you ask her about her bucket list, she’ll share endless travel destinations! Amber spends her days as the Director of Fundraising Marketing, leading a talented team of creatives for nearly 18 years. She is also a devoted advocate for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and other underrepresented causes.