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.”

New-age as­sis­tance

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.

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