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Self harming? There is help available

Research cited by the Mental Health Foundation has found that 10% of young people have self-harmed. Here Ceylan Scott, who has suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder, asks us all to challenge the stigma and raise awareness of the treatment options available

by Psychologies

Self harm is on the rise in young people and it isn't entirely clear why. Accusations often fall to social media or the lack of education offered in schools, but whether these factors are responsible for more and more children choosing to deliberately hurt themselves is unclear.

With these rising levels of self harm, eating disorders and stress amongst youngsters, mental health is being talked about in public where before we may have shied away. There’s still a long way to go, of course, but little by little, the smoke shrouding these topics is starting to lift, and people are starting to hear the terms depression, OCD, or Bipolar Disorder out in the light. This is incredibly important and as the general population gain knowledge about this illness, sufferers can be empowered and supported in their struggles far more than they would have done ten years ago. But why are we discriminating over which illnesses to choose?

What about Borderline Personality Disorder? How many people have heard of that? BPD is the only mental illness, which includes self harm in its diagnostic criteria, which also includes impulsivity, intense and dramatic mood swings, unstable relationships and episodes of psychosis. It is just as common as other, more well known mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, and is just as deadly. It is estimated that at least 70% of sufferers will attempt suicide at some point in their lives and 10% will succeed. It is a relatively common and incredibly painful disorder to live with, so why are we not talking about it?

Why does no one want to talk about Borderline Personality Disorder?

The stigma and misconceptions surrounding this complex illness are made even more marked by the attitudes of both the general public and healthcare professionals alike. Too often, dangerous self harming behaviour in individuals with BPD is dismissed as being manipulative or attention-seeking, and it seems to be the widely held view of many doctors that medications are of no benefit for those suffering. I take two psychiatric medications every day, and they keep me stable and able to engage in aspects of normal life that would otherwise be impossible for me; without them, I would unlikely be writing this article.

This belief that medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilisers or antipsychotics are redundant in treating this illness leaves many sufferers feeling isolated, confused and unwell. BPD is notoriously difficult to treat, and as such, specialised therapies (such as dialectical behavioural therapy, or mentalisation based therapy) are often necessary - but almost impossible to come by in some circumstances because of the current state of mental health services across the country.

Even the name suggests a fault in one's personality; a flaw in their character which only adds to the devastation a sufferer may feel when confronted with this daunting diagnosis. Searching online offers little comfort, with articles focussing on steering clear of people with BPD, often describing them as dangerous or toxic. In reality, I have yet to meet a single sufferer of this disorder who is in the least bit dangerous to others. They are actually aware of other people’s emotions and are far more likely to turn inwards on themselves. The truth about BPD is that those living with it are in a tremendous amount of pain, which is too often dismissed by professionals as attention seeking. But why is that seen as such a bad thing? Perhaps ‘attention-seeking‘ is the only way an ill and frightened person is able to communicate their turmoil?

We need to start talking about mental illness indiscriminately - we need blunt and uncensored conversations about self harm or psychosis or eating disorders. Everyone needs to know that there's more to anorexia than weight, there's more to depression than crying on the bathroom floor, and there's more to a person’s personality than their BPD. If we don't talk openly about these problems, they will continue to grow silently throughout our society, polarising the mentally ill from those unaffected. solutions can only be found if we talk and listen to everything, every illness, every strategy to maintain mental wellbeing, every voice that needs to be heard. 

Covering your ears and shutting your eyes won't stop these problems from existing. Hiding BPD from the public view won't eliminate the suffering. We need to tackle these problems head on, uncensored and unafraid, because unless that happens, self harm and suicide rates will continue to grow, psychiatric services will remain horribly underfunded, and for those suffering, the need to hide their conditions from a stigma-swathed public will continue. The truth about these devastating conditions has to come out - and as far as I can tell, the sooner, the better.

Ceylan Scott was born in London in 1997. She has suffered from mental health problems throughout her teenage years and was recently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Click here for help and resources if you are suffering from self harm

Click here for the facts about self harm

Further support:

The Mental Health Foundation provides resources, support and a peer support network.

Click here to download the Mental Health Foundation's 'the truth about self-harm' booklet

Photograph: iStock

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