Inflicting pain on self is ‘a quiet epidemic’
By Alan Johnson THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
ERIC ALBRECHT DISPATCH Bria Davis, an Ohio State student who has a past with self-harm, says she knows 30 people who still do it.
It’s called “self-harming,” but the reality is more graphic: cutting, hitting, biting, burning, bruising, even bone-breaking.
- Although they usually hide it from loved ones, as many as 25 percent of adolescents — the vast majority of them girls — self-injure, mental-health experts say. The behavior often starts at age 13 or 14 and continues until the early 20s.
“We call it a quiet epidemic because you don’t hear much about it,” said Laura Moskow Sigal, executive director of Mental Health America of Franklin County. “It’s an unhealthy way of dealing with emotional pain.”
Sigal’s group last week sponsored a conference on the topic: “Cutting and Coping: Understanding Self-Injury in Youth.”
Adolescents hurt themselves in a number of ways to temporarily distract themselves from emotional pain by causing physical pain, or to escape an overwhelming numbness in their life, said Staci Swenson, a social worker and therapist with Mental Health America.
“When we feel pain, our body releases endorphins, which cause a change in brain chemistry,” she said.
Bria Davis, who grew up in Pittsburgh, knew nothing about psychology or endorphins when she began harming herself as a high school freshman. Insecure, yet a perfectionist, Davis was unhappy at home. She was troubled because her mom, a single parent, had to work most of the time. One day, after a soccer game, she began using one heel to kick herself in the shins. She did it until both legs were bruised and bleeding.
“Sometimes the thoughts are so loud in your head that it seems the only way to relieve it is to harm yourself,” Davis said. “Then it becomes a relief. I was happy, sometimes I would laugh.”
Davis, now 19 and a sophomore at Ohio State University, said she eventually stopped self-harming after joining her high school marching band and listening to comforting friends who told her she was a worthwhile person. But she acknowledges that sometimes she still experiences the urge — the “mental noises.”
Davis said she knows 30 people in Ohio and back in Pittsburgh who hurt themselves, most by cutting. “I know people who hide razors all over their rooms so their parents won’t find them. … It’s a lot more common than people think it is,” she said. They cover the wounds and scars by wearing concealing clothing , wristbands, jewelry or other items, she said.
At Ohio State, Davis is an officer with the university chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms, a national nonprofit group “dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”
Swenson said self-harming behavior is not usually a sign that a person is likely to commit suicide, although they can be at greater risk. She urged parents to watch for warning signs in their child: frequent cuts, burns and bruises; wearing concealing clothing during all seasons; intense emotions of anxiety and depression; and poor functioning at school, at home and in relationships.
For more information or to seek help, visit Mental Health America online at mhafc.org or call the SAFE Alternative hot line at 800-366-8288 or the emergency NetCare Access line, 614-276-2273. email@example.com
This article has somewhat removed me from my moorings — comfort zone, and there’s a struggle to find anything intelligent to say. I must, however express appreciation for this young woman and her remarkable wellspring of innate intelligence which has brought her through a bitter and lonely path to become a participant in a broader arena where she can put her growing wisdom and skills to good use in helping others. Only a very personal knowledge can allow the kind of perceptive exchange which others can trust and relate to. Bria has my total admiration. Go girl and climb your mountain! Jan)