People cope with pain and mental illnesses in different ways. Some don’t do anything, hoping their pain will go away. Others take their painful emotions out on others. Others drink or use drugs to alter their moods, at least for a short time.

Still other people self-injure or self-harm. This means they may physically harm themselves. They may do this because the physical pain produces hormones that temporarily distract them from their mental pain. They may do this because they’re depressed and don’t feel anything at all, so physically harming themselves is their way of feeling something, anything.

They may cut or burn themselves or pull out their hair. They may punch themselves or punch other things. They may bruise themselves or even break their bones, all to feel different from how they already feel.

Engaging in self-harm or self-injury can create vicious cycles. People may feel mental pain and then harm themselves to feel physical pain and temporary relief. But, since the relief is temporary, the people may return to harming themselves again to seek relief again. They could feel bad about themselves because they’re self-harming and use self-injury as a way to cope with these feelings.

As insidious as these patterns are, people can break them. Talking about them is an important step.

Discussing mental illness may not be fun or comfortable, but it’s vital. There are many who are willing to listen:

  • Community mental health centers are a good resource. If you visit these centers, you can find information about self-harm and other conditions. You can meet people to assist you or learn about other people, agencies, and organizations who can help you.
  • Therapists can assist you. Mental health centers can introduce you to therapists who can help you determine why you self-harm, abuse substances, or experience other problems. They can help create strategies for avoiding such problems in the future.
  • Online resources are also helpful. You can buy books and play video games online. You can also seek help. Some sites offer professional assistance for mental health needs. Others offer more informal discussion groups where you can talk with people who’ve experienced the same things.

By talking with others, you’re engaging with them. You’re extending beyond yourself to communicate with others.

Self-injury and self-harm focus on the self. They can isolate a person.

But, chatting online, discussing things with therapists, and talking with people at community centers are all ways to interact and break from the self-imposed prisons of self-harm and self-sabotaging thoughts. They can help people stop self-harming and begin to practice self-care.

Self-Injury Awareness Day is March 1, but talking about self-injury and other mental illnesses should be a year-round activity if we want to acknowledge and treat them.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor who has written about a wide variety of topics, including physical and mental health, addiction, politics, and gender.

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