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Self-harm and the bystander – Life

Self-harm is a two-edged issue

Sometimes life is tough, sometimes easy. Without doubt, thinking about the suicide of Caroline Flack added pressure in a very recent situation involving me. A couple of years ago I was close by a messy suicide. In fact, one of the people made me anxious. In this case, a burning question arose: if self-harm may be close, but you aren’t sure, what should you do?

Personal pressures

A project I’m delivering means communicating with lots of people. In particular, a brief email exchange highlighted major personal pressures at work and in private life for one of the participants. As a result, I became concerned about the person’s aloneness and mental health. I feared self-harm.

Furthermore, as a deadline approached, our communication dried up and the concern didn’t stop, far from it. In this case questions troubled me.

  • Is everything okay?
  • If everything isn’t okay, how can I help?
  • What should I do?
  • If I act and things are fine, then what?

Respectful or not

Of course, it doesn’t help if you experience unhelpful or disrespectful treatment in the process. For instance, when things don’t happen as a person promised; awareness judgment and empathy are helpful. Also, it’s worth remembering that one’s own emotions are involved too.

Promises, promises

In this case, even though the person is a mature adult, communication failures made my concerns grow. However, sending loads of texts, emails, and making phone calls would create pressure, not remove it. Finally, with a deadline missed by several days, and no promised contact, I called and left a voicemail. Although no direct response happened, a needed action took place and positive contact resumed.

How do we prevent self-harm?

In this case, throughout the process, I feared harassing a person who might be vulnerable. Looking back, I did the best I could, as I sought a needed outcome. Moreover, delay would affect the other people involved. With this in mind, I reminded myself about her wellbeing as I did my task. Not tidy, is it?

Although very important, concern for another isn’t a precise science. Accordingly, I wonder how charges of harassment and other easy-to-make accusations help people in real need. Especially if it’s  someone who just might take their own life or do other less-final forms of self-harm. Likewise, trying to help without spontaneous condemnation as an interfering busybody … until it’s too late?

I don’t know who said ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, last week it could have been me.

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