Healing The Physical Scars Of Self Harm
Having reached over 340,000 junior and senior students in our presentations, I have met a significant number of teens who have or are presently self-harming via cutting, burning and picking. In consulting with one psychiatrist, who specializes with youth who self-harm, he stated that this challenge has become an emotional and psychological health care epidemic in our country. What frustrates me even more, the human and fiscal resources to help youth cope with this challenge are extremely wanting, especially for those families that come from a poorer socio-economic situation. Given the lack of publicly funded resources, these families do not have the financial means to seek out private therapeutic help, the results of which could lead to significant emotional, psychological and physical outcomes.
Before I speak to the topic of this article, I recognize that it could be very sensitive and triggering to those who self-harm, and their parents. As Ginger Henderson, a registered counsellor and therapist in Victoria shared with me, “The variety of reasons for why people cut include; wanting to feel something when the mental illness that they are suffering from leaves them feeling numb. Wanting to feel a different form of pain compared to the pain they are often experiencing from their depression.... it’s a coping skill for serious adversity that they are facing. Self-harm is an outlet for when they are feeling overwhelmed.” The reasons and causes for teens and self-harm are multifactorial in nature and beyond the scope of this article and my expertise. Once again, however, Ginger provided more insight, “there are so many reasons why people cut, and this article isn't about wanting or making them feel misunderstood.”
Parents also need to know that their actions, specific to this topic, can also be very upsetting to their child, who may be struggling with self-harm. Again, Ginger stated to me, “the number one issues I have seen is teens being upset with their parents about not understanding the multifactorial causes and effects of self-harm. Given this lack of understanding, we have parents stating to their kids.... ‘why would you do that’..... which only makes kids feel even less understood, and therefore more wanting to self-harm.” This type of parental feedback is what I call a negative feedback loop. Remember, this isn’t just your child’s challenge, parents we have a huge role to play in the treatment and recovery process as well. Our words and actions are powerful.
The intent of this article; it is about sharing with those who have reached the point of recovery, where their visible scars are maybe still affecting them, both personally and publicly, with options as to how to overcome this challenge. The goal of this article is to provide teens with a relatively new option that may make them feel more in control of the past, and reduce the stigma that is often attached to this mental health challenge, given their scars that may be seen by future partners, employers, and others. I have had more than a few of these teens ask me what they could do.
Again, I must stress, this article is for those who have reached the point of emotional and psychological recovery, and now looking for “something” to assist them in coping with the sometimes visible physical scars left behind.
Often teens will attempt to camouflage visible scars via makeup, tattoos, clothing or the wearing of jewelry, such as bracelets. All these options, although effective to a degree, are not permanent (other than a tattoo), and can sometimes fail to conceal the scar(s).
Another option, and the reason for this article; through my research and discussions with the medical community (plastic surgeons and dermatologists), I came across a product called Dermatix. This product works to decrease, not eliminate, the visibility of scars. When Dermatix is used, in combination with more traditional camouflage techniques, it could provide a teen, or even an adult, with an effective combined option. This product has had high praise in the literature, but like any medical option, one should always consult with their family doctor before its use.
I wish I could educate the world about this mental health challenge, but the reality is I can’t. As a result, there are some who are educationally uninformed and will negatively stigmatize others in situations such as job interviews, because of visible scars, thus why several young people, and even their parents, have reached out to us for help and some guidance.
I want to thank the medical community that I connected with, as well as Ginger, who helped me with some of the content contained in this article. In fact, for those who are seeking counseling specific to self-harm, I would strongly suggest you connect with Ginger who truly does specialize in this area of study. What is cool about Ginger’s practice, she can reach out the those outside the Greater Victoria area via what she calls E-Therapy. For more information on Ginger’s services connect with her here: www.counsellorvictoria.ca. Also, thank you from the bottom of my heart to that teen who helped me with the content of this article....you know who you are :) This is a teen who has been there and done that, and is well on the road to recovery supported by a loving, caring and understanding family. I hope one day to see this teen join our team and become a White Hatter, and share their story with others !!!
Resources for parents:
Canadian Stats and Facts: