While it seems a little different this issue follows in the judgmental theme I appear to have created for the week as the stigma arises from judgments people make with little to no basis in reality.
I will never forget the day a friend of mine told me (a number of years later) about an experience she had at my high school . She self-harmed as a consequence of severe depression. At the time, some of us knew. It wasn’t a secret. It wasn’t attention seeking but she didn’t always try and hide the scars. Apparently, one day the head of our year took her aside and told her a teacher had told her about the scars. She said that my friend must hide them because she was giving a bad impression of the school and encouraging other students to behave in the same way. If she was seen with her scars visible again there would be serious consequences and her parents would have to be told about her “bad behavior”.
That was it. There was no question of what was going on. No attempt to send her to the school counselor. No getting her parents involved. Just a lecture on what a bad impression she was giving and that she better hide her scars.
I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the imbecility, insensibility, and complete callousness showed by this woman. I don’t know if other years and other schools were different but in my grade at school it seemed like a lot of kids struggling with eating disorders, self-harm, and depression. If this was the way they were treated it was no wonder no one was getting any help.
This came to mind again after reading a few mental health blogs. A number of people talk about the struggles of coming out as ex-self harmers, and of dealing with the looks and comments about scars. One girl mentioned her friend telling her to cover up because her scars “disgusted her”.
We’re talking about people’s bodies here. About a symptom of mental illness. This is something that should be looked at with compassion. In my high school people seemed to deal with their problems in one of four ways: self harm, eating disorders, alcohol and drugs, or sex. Many people with mental illness have some sort of unhealthy coping mechanism. Part of what defines mental illness is the unhealthy coping mechanism that is associated often with depression or anxiety. But in the end, most of these people can hide their illness and their struggles. They don’t have to share their mental health history with friends and colleagues or defend themselves from strangers glares. Those who self-harmed often do. There will be reminders on their bodies signifying their current or past struggles.
It is not our place to question or judge these things. If a person has signs that they struggled in the past don’t judge them or mock them, and if a person has fresh cuts or scars you most certainly shouldn’t just tell them to hide it and that they should be ashamed of themselves. Self-harm is just another symptom of a struggle that some people, unfortunately, go through. Don’t judge, don’t bully, and don’t shame people because they are struggling.
How would it feel if you were struggling with something and someone came up to you, mocked you for it and then told you to stop being so attention-seeking and stop struggling? It wouldn’t help. It would only make things worse.
Be open-minded, be a decent human being, and if you are in a position of authority please don’t be like that teacher in my high school.