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Beyond Stigma, There is Hope

When it comes to mental health issues, it seems that nothing is more stigmatized then self-harming behavior – specifically, cutting. Cutting, known in mental health circles usually as a form of non-suicidal self-injury, is most prevalent in teenagers and young adults. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in ten college students will participate in at least 100 episodes of cutting over the course of their lifetimes. Nationwide, estimates are somewhere near three million – that’s three million people who purposely harm themselves without the intent to end their lives. Why?

There isn’t really a clear answer. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways. With 18 million people suffering from depression in the United States alone, it’s obvious that no one case will be the same. Cutting can be a coping mechanism – for somebody suffering from depression, in their mind, there may be no other way to deal with the pain and sadness they are experiencing. It can be a cry for help – not attention, as the stigma often leads us to believe. But mostly, it’s something that may bring temporary relief for somebody wading through hopelessness without any other idea how to cope, how to see through the darkness that depression can cast upon a life.

Self-harm (self-mutilation, self-injury, self-abuse) can be defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one’s self. Though cutting is a popular form of self-harm, burning, picking at wounds, striking oneself, some forms of hair-pulling, and inserting objects into skin are all included under this umbrella. They are symptoms of something far more serious, but also something that can be treated – maybe even cured. Though the behavior has been more popularized in the media as a female issue, statistics show that is has the same occurrence between males and females. Population-wise, those most at risk to participate in the behavior are teens and young adults. Those who suffer from self-harming are also more likely to seek the comfort of alcohol or drugs, and to suffer from eating disorders. Because the relief all of these things provide is temporary, the behavior becomes a destructive, disastrous cycle that only worsens over time if left untreated.
This season, across college campuses and the country, a movement continues to grow – To Write Love on Her Arms, a non-profit movement “dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide,” kicked off its Autumn Tour, which includes speakers, musical performances, and rallies to raise awareness regarding these issues. Most of the tour stops are college campuses, where students can participate as actively or passively as they want: Actively, by telling their stories, out loud, for the world to hear, to aid in the de-stigmatization of self-harm and depression, or passively, by simply writing the word “love” on their arms. In the wake of all the media coverage regarding teen suicides and bullying, this organization and many others like it are making their messages clear: There is hope.
Depression, and the behavior caused by it, can be treated. TWLOHA is perhaps the most notable and outspoken organization towards the teen and college student population, using popular music and a heartfelt, emotional message, plastered poetically throughout their website. Organizations like this, and the people who work tirelessly for and with them, are slowly but surely erasing stigma and helping thousands of people to seek treatment, to find hope.“We all wake to the human condition. We wake to mystery and beauty, but also to tragedy and loss. Millions of people live with problems of pain. Millions of homes are filled with questions – moments and seasons and cycles that come as thieves and aim to stay. We know that pain is very real. It is our privilege to suggest that hope is real, and that help is real. You need to know that rescue is possible, that freedom is possible…We’re seeing it happen.” – To Write Love on Her Arms, Vision Statement

To Write Love On Her Arms
National Institute of Mental Health
S.A.F.E. Alternatives – Help for those suffering from self-injury

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