Seeking help for self-harm
Eastern Health clinical psychologist weighs in on self-injury
A Conception Bay North mother may have been surprised last month to learn one of her daughters was selfharming, but it is something Eastern Health clinical psychologist Kristyn Drover has seen before.
“Self injurious behaviours or SIBs are something that most, if not all, mental health professionals are familiar with. They are definitely nothing new, which certainly doesn’t make them any less concerning,” she told The Compass.
In an article last week, the family of a 12-year-old girl shared their story of finding scratch marks on her arm and bringing her to the hospital.
But how does the regional health authority and mental health professionals help children and teenagers engaged in self-harming activities?
Once someone seeks help, they can be referred to the Child Central Intake service for outpatient services, as well as community-based mental health and addictions services.
Drover’s position allows her to work with members of the public on multiple issues — from self-harming to eating disorders to anxiety, and everything in between.
“I’m not in the business of giving advice, but rather helping an individual find alternative and more constructive ways to cope with emotion dysregulation,” Drover explained. “And most importantly, validating that their feelings are real and distressing.
“Making sure an individual feels heard and understood is paramount to opening the door to learning better ways of coping.”
Eastern Health launched a smart phone app for youth earlier this year called “Bridge the gAPP.”
The app was created as part of an initiative to help young people between the ages of 13 and 18 voice their concerns, talk about issues they may be uncomfortable discussing with adults, and provide a place to share art and phone numbers if they need someone to talk to.
Under the subcategory “The Worry Jar,” app users can share their worries with other teens. Some post concerns about telling others about their sexual orientation. Others say their friends don’t really like them, while others write about problems in school ranging from bullies to grades.
There are hundreds of comments posted by teens in this province. But one of the most serious topics involves self-injury and suicide. Posts are anonymous and candid.
“I’ve been six months free from cutting but those urges are there,” one post reads.
“I’m self-harming and it’s getting worse and worse. I’ve attempted suicide four times and I want to get better but I can’t and nothing helps,” says another.
The Canadian Teachers Federation lists on its website that one in five students receive help for mental health related issues. This app allows more youth to access phone numbers and resources that may help them.
Lucy Warren of the English School District told The Compass the school board promotes the use of the app on its website, and educators also encourage students to use it. Why do people self-harm? Drover said that there are many reasons young people fit into the category of someone that partakes in “non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI).” Parents may recognize some of them.
“Cutting is one of a variety of SIBs that also include things like picking, scratching, burning and hitting,” she explained.
Over the past 10-15 years, she’s noticed several similar traits; the first is negative feelings.
“As a consequence, the NSSI acts as a way to reduce that emotion,” she said.
It is only a temporary feeling, and often recurs.
About half of self-harming individuals do it as a form of “selfpunishment or… self-directed anger.” Distraction is another reason some have offered.
“It is not a straight-forward issue,” Drover noted.
Drover said those that selfharm often have more intense emotions than others and can have extreme sensitivity getting back to a “more baseline” state. Some may even have “trouble regulating emotion.”
Females tend to cut, while males are more inclined to burn or hit, she said.
The 12-year-old covered in last week’s story was cutting to get her mind off bullying issues. She is no longer self-harming, and is anticipating getting on the road to recovery through a referral to Child Central Intake.
Kristyn Drover is a clinical psychologist with Eastern Health.