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Understanding Self Harm

Let me tell you all a story. Back in college, I used to be friends with this amazing girl who was into sports and always aced her exams. She was what you'd call a model student. Straight A's, teachers fawning over her, the students going to her for notes before every exam, she had her career down on the right path.

So one day, she and I were sitting in the cafeteria during lunch. It was a fairly common Friday, college ended early, and we decided to grab a bit of food before we went out with friends. We were just talking about our lives and other random stuff you'd expect college kids to talk about when I noticed scar-like markings on her hand. Being a student of psychology and human behavior, I immediately knew something was up. I asked her "What's that?" She immediately rolled down her sleeves and brushed it off, saying "nothing"

But I was persistent, and I kept asking her what it was about and why she was doing what she was doing. I told her that it would be better if she talked to somebody about it, but she wouldn't listen to me. So I did the best thing I could do as a friend. I sat her down, and I explained it to her. I asked her to open up, and after a lot of persistence, she did.

That conversation went on throughout the entire night, and even though I talked to her and I understood what her perspective was, there wasn't much I could have done about it.

What we are gonna talk about folk, today is NSSI or non-suicidal self-injury. More commonly known as self-harm; this is basically a mental health condition that acts as a defense mechanism for a lot of people to cope with stress in their lives.

Have you ever felt depressed? Overwhelmed with anxiety and stress from work, your social life, or your family? When the emotional pain of all of these aspects of a person's life becomes too overwhelming and they cannot contain it within themselves, they need a release from all that pain and trauma. More often than not, when a person doesn't have a way of dealing with it, they resort to the only other form of pain release they know: self-harm.

At its core, this act of injuring oneself, (be it through cutting their arm, burning, hitting walls, intentionally inhibiting healing of previous wounds, etc) is a coping mechanism. the physical pain that they experience from their injuries often helps subside the mental stress and trauma they feel. It's like drawing a longer line next to another line to make the latter look smaller. Whilst mentally healthy humans would talk to and visit psychiatrists to solve their issues when a person feels trapped, they will often resort to some other form of coping, which more often than not, is unhealthy and harmful to them and/or their loved ones.

NSSI as a mental health disorder hasn't been studied much, and as a result, our information on the demographic it represents, and treatments for it are very limited. however, from empirical studies done over the last few decades, it's observed that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 7 boys engage in self-harm at some point in their lives.

Although the most common demographic is teenagers and young adults aged between 14 and 25, there's no clear age after which NSSI isn't observed.

In India alone, over 200 million teenagers and young adults resort to self-harm as a coping mechanism because they have nowhere to turn. Even in situations where they have close friends and family, they can confide in for their mental health needs, the stigma attached to self-harm is often too high for them to discuss it with others.

People experiencing NSSI often are ashamed of the scars and will try to hide them even from people that are close to them.

NSSI is just like any other mental health condition, and with the right support system and help, people experiencing it can learn to cope with stress and emotional pain without harming themselves. What we must do as people is encourage a healthy discussion about NSSI, and all things mental health related because it is often just as important, if not more, than your physical health.

There are various sources out there that provide you with a place to talk, and if you feel like you are at risk of harming yourself or others around you, call a helpline immediately.

If you'd like an ear to listen without judgment, I'll be happy to do so.

In the meantime, don't assume what someone is going through, and lift each other up.

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