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INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Next Thursday the 23rd May we're welcoming Sarah Swannell as this month's guest professional and inviting you to join us right here at 9pm (AEST) to have an informal discussion about the stigma of self-injury, become more aware of your thoughts and emotions,  different ways of coping that don’t include self-injury as well as how to support a friend or loved one who engages with self-injury.


If you would like you submit an anonymous question for her to answer during the session, please submit your question here.


For now, here is a little more info about Sarah, we are really excited to have her join us!


It's Sarah 


Sarah is a registered psychologist. She works with individuals one-on-one as well as running therapeutic groups in Brisbane. Sarah is also a Senior Researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Queensland.


One of Sarah’s main clinical interests is self-destructive behaviours - like suicidality, self-harm, eating disorders, substance abuse, and other impulsive behaviours. Sarah's work has been published nationally and internationally and she has presented at both national and international psychology conferences.


Sarah says her most recent accomplishment is the completion of her PhD - an investigation of  self-injury (non-suicidal). It included a large national study where over 12,000 Australians completed interviews about self-injury, suicide, substance use, child maltreatment, and other aspects of emotional and psychological health.




Here's a video made by our friends at ROUK day to get you thinking... 

Online Community Manager

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Here's a description from Sarah about the discussion. 

**please note** please check out the forum guidelines as they advise us all to speak about self harm and self injury rather than the actual method or type of injury as it can be triggering for others. Please only use those terms here in teh forums.


"Non-suicidal self-injury is when someone harms their own body in an attempt to cope with difficult feelings. It affects lots of people – in fact, 8.1% of Australians admit to having self-injured at least one time in their life. Unfortunately, it is a behaviour that continues to be taboo or highly stigmatised in society.


There is a misunderstanding that self-injury is about getting attention or manipulating other people. This leads to shame and embarrassment for the people who do engage in self-injury. The other problem is that many people also incorrectly believe that any type of self-injury is a suicide attempt, which is not true. That can lead to an overly panicked reaction and sometimes hospitalisation that is not actually needed.


What research now shows us is that self-injury is a way of coping with emotional and psychological pain, and it is actually very effective in the short term. Medical studies show that after self-injury, people feel much calmer and less distressed. Unfortunately, this calm feeling doesn’t last long, sometimes only minutes, and the emotional pain returns. In addition to the original emotional pain returning, a lot of people feel even worse because they feel ashamed and embarrassed about having self-injured.


These negative feelings are made worse by their need to hide their self-injury – leading to feelings of isolation and sadness, which can create the urge to self-injure again. This can become a downward cycle, and people find they fall deeper and deeper in psychological distress. The problem is, because the immediate relief of self-injury is so rewarding, it is hard to stop the cycle. In this way, the cycle of self-injury is a bit like the cycle of drug addiction.


In order to stop the cycle of self-injury, different coping methods must be learned and practised. Coping methods need to include ways to cope with emotional pain, ways to cope with everyday problems, and ways to cope with relationship issues. The first step in all of these coping methods is to become aware of what is going on in your own mind – to become aware of your thoughts and your emotions.


During this session we will focus on three main topics (1) how to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, (2) different ways of coping that don’t include self-injury and (3) how to help a friend or loved one who might self-harm."

Online Community Manager

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Tonight’s session is relevant to everyone, whether you may have engaged in self harm, supported someone or you just want information for the future. I got the following info from the Bodies Under Siege web board which is run by people who are recovering from engaging in self harm. It’s very recovery-focused and they have said


“Self-harm is a way of coping – that causes as many problems as it solves. Your feelings when you hurt yourself are infinitely more important than how you made the injuries. Our goal here is to get beyond the actual act of self-harm and look at the feelings that prompted it. That's why we discourage graphic descriptions of self-inflicted injuries and don't allow pictures of them”.


In tonight’s discussion – and every day on – we don’t allow description either. The only words we encourage you to use are self-injury or self-harm. Please do not use any other descriptor. Just a quick note about terminology: technically, ‘self-injury’ refers to direct injury to the body without suicidal intent. On the other hand, ‘self-harm’ refers to self-injury and suicide attempts.It is important to make this distinction, because self-injury and suicide attempts should be responded to differently – that is, there are different ways to manage self-injury compared to suicide attempts.


With us tonight we have the wonderful SarahS whose bio you can read back above, she has a lot of experience helping people recover and researching self injury in Australia. We also have mods Gail and Dilini. Please remember to read the guidelines before you post so we keep things safe and supportive through the discussion.


The topic of self-injury can be very emotionally challenging so if you start to feel overwhelmed please take a step back and give some time to yourself. If you feel the need to talk to someone about what you are going through please talk to someone close to you or Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Lifeline(13 11 14).


So to get things started tonight, we’ve had an anonymous questions submitted that Sarah is going to answer, so Sarah, over to you. The question was: What are some ways to help friends, even if they don't want it, with self-harm?


(Say hello if yr here already!)

Online Community Manager

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Hi all!


Welcome to tonight's Infobus! I'm really looking forward to this session and to hearing all your thoughts about de-stigmatising self harm. It can be a bit of a personal and potentially upsetting subject - so make sure to look after yourselves. I've got myself a cup of tea and my favourite blanket Smiley Happy

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Hi everyone and BIG welcome to Sarah!

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

The best thing you can do for a friend who is self-harming, whether they want help or not, is to BE A GOOD FRIEND! Self-harm is a response to emotional and psychological pain and having good friends can reduce (although not eliminate) this pain. A good friend is someone who respects you, is kind, non-judgmental, trustworthy, listens to you when things are good AND bad, spends time with you, and is supportive. It is possible to be all these things without even mentioning self-harm! Sometimes the most important thing is listening to your friend, because self-harm is often done when a person can't seem to find the words to express their feelings. So encouraging a friend to talk (but not forcing them), is helpful. One additional important note. If you are afraid for your friend's safety (ie you are afraid they will severely injure themself or kills themself) you must tell an adult or a professional about your fears. Even if your friend asks you to promise to keep it a secret - this is a time when you should not keep the secret. You don't necessarily have to tell your friend's parents if you think that might make the situation worse, but you must tell another trustworthy adult (maybe your parents, a teacher, the school counsellor etc). Also, do not try to 'counsel' your friend yourself - that is a job for a professional.

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Welcome to the infobus everyone! I hope you all get something out of this session. Self-injury is such a widespread problem, and it is so important for us to talk about it.


Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Thanks Sarah! Some really great points there - I especially think being non-judgemental is key!


To start our questions off for the night... In the intro we mentioned that 8.1% of Australians report having self-injured at least one time in their life. Does that statistic surprise you or make sense? Do you know someone who has self-injured– yourself, a friend a loved one?

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Welcome Sarah!! We're great stoked to have you here to talk about self injury...
Thanks for telling me about the difference in the words self injury and self harm that I put in my intro for tonight.. I didn't know.

I'm not too surprised by that stat, but 8.1 is *a lot* of people... But it does touch many/most peoples lives in some way

Online Community Manager

Re: INFOBUS: Addressing the stigma of self-injury

Hey guys!
Was just dropping by, and SHAZZAM! Infobus is on!
Smiley Happy
I'm fairly flat out tonight, but will hang around for a little.

Love the answer you gave Sarah. Being a good friend is so important.

"Does that statistic surprise you or make sense? Do you know someone who has self-injured– yourself, a friend a loved one?'

That really does surprise me! I would have thought it would have been a lot lower than that.