Something I’ve noticed increasingly over the years is that self-injury is far more of a taboo subject than suicide. I’m interested in why this is the case, and have come to the personal conclusion that it’s because people see drama in death, and don’t appreciate the fight for survival that often drives self-injury.
I noticed some time ago that every time I posted a link about self-injury to my personal Facebook, I lost a handful of ‘friends’. Yet those same people had shared posts about suicide. They were the ones who plastered their Facebook with sad quotes and crying emojis when someone died by suicide.
A similar thing happens if I talk to real life acquaintances about my charity work surrounding self-injury. When I say I volunteer for a mental health charity, people are interested, even impressed. But as soon as I mention self-injury they quickly lose interest; they don’t want to hear any more.
So I ask myself, in order to get people caring about self-injury, do we need to talk more about the connections between self-injury and suicide? Currently we work mostly to highlight the difference, that self-injury is almost the opposite of suicide that it’s about coping and surviving. That in some cases it prevents suicide. We focus on the whys instead of the hows, the emotions rather than the actions.
Thinking about people’s polar opposite attitudes towards self-injury and suicide, I worry that many people simply love sensationalism. They don’t really care about suicide on any important level; they are merely attracted to the shock and ‘excitement’. Self-injury just doesn’t compare. Nobody reads cheap tabloids because they crave stories of survival.
An example of this toxic attitude was the death of a homeless man on the streets. People shared the tragedy all over their social networks; people local to the incident spent hundreds of pounds on flowers and candles to adorn the doorway where he had slept. Thousands more was raised online to pay for a decent funeral. I found it all quite sickening. Imagine if all those people had cared while he was alive; while he was fighting to survive. Sadly, he didn’t exist to them then. He only existed when he gave people what they crave – a death.
I’m not sure I understand why this is the case. Maybe for some it’s because they want some excitement in their lives. Maybe for others it’s about making themselves feel better; either by caring when it’s too late in order to make up for not caring when it mattered, or by some sense of having done better at life than the person who died. I’m sure there are other reasons too, and within all those reasons are the same reasons why people care about suicide but not self-injury.
Do we instead need to talk more about the fact that the issues and overwhelming emotions that lead to self-injury can also lead to suicide? Do we need to talk about the fact that a history of self-injury increases the risk of suicide? Do we need to sensationalise self-injury and give people a hint of death in order to grab their interest?
In truth, I just don’t know.