Self-harming students not alone

Compassion and understanding key for helping self-harmers, says counselling services

Khristopher Reardon
Senior Life Reporter

Humber has many cases of non-suicidal self-injury, especially at this time of the year, said Liz Sokol, counselling co-ordinator for North Campus.

“They’ll usually come in for another reason and in the course of our conversations they’ll reveal that they’ve been cutting,” said Sokol. “The biggest reasons why people self-injure is because they can’t cope with whatever is happening in the moment. It’s not a great coping mechanism but it is a coping mechanism.”

According to resources provided by Tracy Riley, a psychological associate, in a handout titled “Working with people who self-injure: Key concept for health care professionals,” a collection of studies suggests that 17 to 38 per cent of college and university students self-injure at least once.

“You can easily imagine someone saying, ‘why would you ever do that to yourself, why would you hurt yourself?’ So people feel puzzled by it, they don’t understand and I think because of that there might be a tendancy to say ‘That person’s weird or crazy or something’,” said Riley. “But they’re not, they’re not at all.”

Riley created ‘Inspiring Connections,’ a website to debunk misinformation about self-injury.

The site also tries to help teach people how to helping someone who self-injures.

“It’s not hard to imagine that some people might feel hesitant or just unsure of how to help,” said Riley.

Mary Graham, founder of Self-Abuse Finally Ends By Caring (S.A.F.E. BC), said she self-injured for 23 years, starting when she was 17.

She went into the S.A.F.E. program in the U.S., where she learned how to find alternatives to the behaviour.
She brought what she learned back to Canada and has been running the program in Hamilton, Ont., for 20 years now.

“Most people who have self-harmed have been physically, mentally and sexually abused. They self-harm to deal with the memories and the pain. It shuts down the thinking for a while, it shuts down the feeling,” said Graham.

Graham said the S.A.F.E. BC is used to reach people who self-harm in a way that doesn’t alienate them and force them deeper into the behaviour.

“What the S.A.F.E. program does is teach new behaviours, and gives them new tools to work with,” said Graham.

For people who think they see these behaviours in friends or peers and want to help, Sokol said the best thing you can do is talk about the causes behind self-injury and not the injuries themselves.

“You don’t approach someone and talk about cutting, what you do is approach someone and you talk about the fact that they’re likely in pain or that they’re experiencing stress,” said Sokol.

“You approach it as you recognize this person is under a lot of whatever is going on, like I’ll say stress or pain, and do what you would normally do which is ‘how can I help? Do you want to talk about it?’ That sort of thing.”

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One Thought to “Self-harming students not alone”

  1. Mary Graham

    Great article but I have 2 comments, 1st, I hate the term self-harmers. People who self-harm or use self-harm as a coping skill are people 1st not self-harmers. 2nd I have only been running this group in Hamilton just under 2 yrs here in Hamilton. Before that I was in Vancouver BC, Melbourne Australia, Auckland NZ and where I started this program London 1990. Thank you for bringing this issue forward. If students want help they can contact Barrett Centre 905-529-4343.

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