Letter: Help for self-harmers

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The Independent Online
Letter: Help for self-harmers

AS A recovering "cutter", I was appalled at the feature "Why I have to harm myself" (24 February).

From my experience over 28 years of serious self-injury, and five years "in recovery" from it, I know this condition to be an addiction. It does not start out as one, but it becomes one, like any coping strategy. To facilitate such a strategy is at best misguided, and at worst dangerous; not least for the message it sends to those who are trying to learn better ways of coping.

Is there any effective treatment centre which would, as described in your article, permit a self-harmer - and in this category I include alcoholics, drug addicts and anorexics - to use their behaviour as a "fail-safe" for any longer than it takes to understand the reasons why? Most sufferers are desperate for help, not to minimise, but to stop, and be stopped.

According to your article, Sharon LeFevre is being enabled to carry on cutting by those who encourage her "workshops". She is not going to stop, because she has become her own "course material" - exhibiting scars in accident and emergency departments across the country, in the belief that she is "educating" the medical profession.

Twenty years ago I too experienced lack of understanding from some members of the medical profession. I also experienced great compassion and care from other members of the same profession. Frequently, and on reflection, what I perceived as hostility was simply a matter-of-fact response from a busy A&E team, usually late at night, dealing with what really was - to be blunt - unnecessary work.

Unlike Ms LeFevre, I neither looked for nor expected deep psychological insight from these people. Nor would it have helped me then if it had been available. What I did receive was the appropriate medical intervention dictated by my physical injuries.

Repeated self-injury is both aggressive and frightening to the onlooker. Many of the nursing staff were themselves traumatised by my behaviour. They weren't "hostile", just horrified and shocked - a natural response on seeing grotesque mutilation.

You cannot force "understanding" down peoples' throats. More often than not their natural reaction is the salutary lesson which eventually brings us back to reality.