Post No.: 0168
People who self-harm do so for various individual reasons. One reason why some people self-harm is to assert some control over their own feelings or to use the physical pain to mask out their emotional pains; but this only works temporarily. Some sufferers say they self-harm to ‘feel something’ against the numbness of life. It can be done to deal with difficult feelings, memories or events, such as bullying or not conforming to gender stereotypes. There are elements of guilt, feeling like a disappointment, anxiety and sometimes anger. But any person who commits self-harm seldom wishes to hurt the feelings of their loved ones for harming themselves.
The increase in young people (including those under 14 years old) self-harming seems to correlate quite strongly with the increase in social media usage during the same timeframe. However, some will dispute there is actually a causal relationship between excessive social media usage and an increased risk of self-harm by those who are vulnerable (some researchers regard ‘excessive social media usage’ as anything more than half-an-hour per day on average).
The increase in social media usage during the past decade or two is correlated with an increase in reported mental health problems in youngsters generally; although potential confounds again may explain at least some of this relationship, such as an increase in youngsters seeing their doctors about their mental health in order to get a diagnosis (yet despite the awareness of mental health problems gradually becoming more and more greater – hardly all cases of self-harm involve going to hospital, and most victims hide their scars when in public, so there’s still likely to be a gross under-reporting of self-harm in society).
Nonetheless, many experts agree that social media, when used excessively or for certain reasons (such as when it’s used to compare lives with one another), is not completely blameless. Seeing others self-harm on social media can normalise such behaviours, and even make some people who self-harm compete against others for the deepest cuts. So self-harm might sometimes be done to gain attention and popularity – in the sense that when some people post their self-harm results on social media, they do apparently perversely attract a lot of views. Posting images of self-harm on social media can help some sufferers receive support – but overall on balance it seems more likely that such images inspire copycats and exacerbate the problem. It’s better to disclose one’s self-harm in other ways if one is seeking support, such as by seeing a doctor.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa also seem to be related with the issue of trying to assert control in an area of one’s life that one can seem to control, in a wider world one otherwise seems to have no or little control over. Many anorexics also suffer from OCD. Anorexia and bulimia sufferers also often feel guilt for eating and so punish themselves by denying themselves food, even though many of them actually consider themselves as ‘foodies’. They often have methodical eating habits, such as taking tiny bites, squashing food down with their fingers or hiding food in their pockets or elsewhere. Sometimes they are trying to hang onto their youth by not allowing their body to grow (which some hypothesise may be connected to this current world of future uncertainty, especially for people from the younger generations right now?) Many cannot easily switch their thinking or take into account the bigger picture.
Conditions like anorexia (those who severely restrict their calorific intake because they fear weight gain), bulimia (those who binge eat but then try to compensate in extreme ways such as via purging and/or excessive exercise) and diabulimia (those with diabetes and bulimia) may seem like very ‘first-world problems’ in a world where many people are still struggling to get enough food to eat. But the ‘first-world’ isn’t better than every other ‘world’ in every single way – ‘developed’ countries can come with their own psychological stressors, such as being constantly bombarded by commercialised and idealised conceptions of ‘thin and beautiful’ or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, and being brought up in this kind of world from birth and not knowing any differently. So we, for a start, need to recalibrate people’s perceptions of what a normal variety of bodies looks like, rather than only be exposed to the narrow range typically portrayed as acceptable in the media.
Anorexia is certainly down to a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors or influences, including a culture of ‘image equals success’. Yet this isn’t always the reason for the most severe of anorexia cases. For some of these sufferers at least, anorexia is not about vanity – they know that they don’t look great being so gaunt with their bones sticking out. The main issue is one regarding the perception of control. And like with self-harm, social media plays a role with anorexia too, with ‘pro-ana’ sites that might offer some sufferers social support – but overall on balance offer so-called ‘thinspiration’ and exacerbate the problem.
Body dysmorphic disorder (having a distorted and negative perception of one’s own body that such thoughts consume one’s daily life) and bulimia can affect even those who on the outside look fit and are of a ‘normal’ weight. Some may even be professional athletes! Those with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) can look at other people with the same condition and understand that they’re not ugly, yet cannot accept that other people similarly think they’re not ugly too. Our own realities are constructed inside our own heads though (and this includes everyone, not just the mentally ill – no one perceives the world objectively, but for some, their perception affects their own health in profoundly negative and disabling ways).
A problem is that many people with eating and/or body dysmorphic disorders, like many addicts, may not realise that they have a problem, and people don’t willingly seek change or implement solutions when they don’t believe they have a problem. And like most mental health issues in general, the earlier one gets help and can keep one step ahead of their destructive behaviours (e.g. planning ahead for managing or avoiding tempting or triggering situations), the better the prognosis.
Adolescents are a barometer for the prevailing culture, and more adolescents seem to be suffering from diagnosed mental health problems than ever before. And the adolescents of today will become the parents and role models of tomorrow – so the mental health of adolescents is always a priority today.
All of these above issues affect all genders but fortunately they can be treated. There are other ways to cope with stress, manage uncertainty and take control. If you are a sufferer of any of these conditions then it will take time to unlearn maladaptive behaviours and relearn more adaptive ones but, with the help of therapies and counselling, you’ll eventually begin to accept, and maybe even like, yourself for whom and how you amazingly are.
Woof. And Furrywisepuppy will be here with you no matter what!