In my journey I have met many people who engage in self injury of one kind or another. Whether it’s cutting, biting or banging their head, it can be deeply distressing to see your loved one hurting themselves and be unable to help.
Mental Health First Aid (Australia) have released the new MHFA for Non Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI) course (formally self-harm). Along the lines of their MHFA for the Suicidal Person course, this course also goes for 4 hours. It is specifically about how to recognise the signs that someone is engaging in non suicidal self injury and how to support them to recovery. It doesn’t give you the qualifications to diagnose or treat people, in the same way a First Aid course doesn’t teach you to become a heart surgeon. What it does do, though, is give you some tools in your toolbox to recognise those signs and know where to get further support.
Here are the top 3 things you need to do to support your loved one.
Forget anything you’ve heard about NSSI being attention seeking behaviour. People who are self injuring are deeply troubled and need your support – not your judgement. Talk to them or more importantly, get them to talk to you. Show you care and want to help but allow them to brainstorm their own coping strategies. Don’t write off their pain by saying they’re just attention seeking.
Encourage them to see their GP. The GP is the conduit between them and the support they need. If they’re anxious, go with them to take their mind off things until they see their GP. Also make sure you make a double appointment at the GP’s so they’ve got enough time to do a thorough mental health assessment.
Follow up with them. The journey to recovery is not an instant process. They will need to go in with realistic expectations. The counselling process may take up to 7 or 8 sessions before they feel a difference so don’t allow them to think that all their problems will be gone in 1 or 2. Stay in contact with them and check in to ensure they’re getting the most from the counselling experience. If they quit, encourage them to go back to their GP to get a referral to a different counsellor. Remember the adage, it doesn’t matter how fast we move, as long as we are moving forward.