Welcome to day 19 in the #AtoZChallenge on mental health. We’ve arrived at the letter S. Here goes.
Self-injury or self-harm is the deliberate infliction of wounds upon oneself. Some scientists make a distinciton between self-injury and self-harm. Self-injury is then seen as leaving relatively minor, local wounds such as cuts or burns. Many people with depression, anxiety or emotion regulation issues such as in borderline personality disorder self-injure. Self-harm then is the infliction of grave harm onto the self, such as amputation. This is seen more often, according to these scientists, in people with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. In reality, of course, only a small portion of even the most severely psychotic patients engage in severe self-mutilation.
In DSM-5, non-suicidal self-injury was introduced as its own mental health diagnosis. Prior to that, many people who self-injure were misdiagnosed, often with borderline personality disorder. The DSM-IV guidelines even said that, if someone self-injured to cope with overwhelming emotions, BPD should be diagnosed, even though BPD has nine criteria, five of which must be met for a diagnosis.
Self-medication refers to the abuse of alcohol or drugs with the goal to cope with mental health problems. It can also refer to the use of prescription medications that haven’t been prescribed to that specific person. Many people “self-medicate” with alcohol, even though alcohol does not have any medical benefits (except in mouthwash). In fact, it can make symptoms worse. Same for drugs. For instance, many people with psychotic symptoms use cannabis because it seems to calm them, even though it is in reality thought to worsen psychotic symptoms.
Of course, some drugs sold on the streets actually do help with certain symptoms. For example, people with undiagnosed ADHD might start using stimulant drugs to counter their symptoms. It is for this reason that self-medication needs to be taken very seriously. In my post on dual diagnosis last October, I addressed the complicated relationship between alcohol or drug use and mental illness
Many people were and still are treated for mental illness against their will. In the antipsychiatry movement, people who come out of (forced) psychiatric care are seen as survivors. Many mentally ill people have indeed endured traumatic experiences at the hands of professionals. Many also have had other traumatic experiences, which may’ve contributed to their mental health condition. As such, they’re also survivors.