We Deserve to Seek Help Without Stigma

By Cordelia RuchFebruary 13, 2023

Note: This post mentions the topic of self-injury in detail. 

I was 14 years old, laying in a hospital bed, getting a psychiatric evaluation to be admitted for suicide watch when the psychiatric nurse told me that my self-harm injuries “weren’t that bad.” After that assessment was uttered, the nurse proceeded to explain—in graphic detail—what method one of her previous patients had used to self-harm.

There was nothing that could have prepared me for that interaction, and even after almost seven years I still remember it like it was yesterday. It took over a year for me to gaze upon the item her previous patient used without feeling sick. I questioned the events that led to my urges to self-harm. I started to believe that I was overreacting.

I invalidated myself and my injuries because no matter how bad they may have been, I had already begun subscribing to the belief that they still weren’t “bad enough.”

I turned to self-harm as a coping mechanism around the age of 11 or 12, and it took years for me to find the proper support needed in order to address and overcome it. Ever since I started self-harming, when I began experiencing intense emotions, the areas where I would self-harm seemed to ache. It took me a while to understand why this happened—until I realized it was my body’s way of telling me I had a backup option if it ever became too much. I used to feel guilty when I felt that subtle ache because I didn’t think that what I was going through was “bad enough” to create the urge to self-harm.

I think that is one of the hardest parts about self-harming—the guilt I felt before and after. This guilt made it really hard to ask for help. I had seen the looks of disgust, the scoffs, the worry in people’s eyes, and the shifting in posture when someone felt uncomfortable. All of these reactions made me feel guilty for even bringing up the topic of urges or admitting to relapse, especially after being told my injuries “weren’t that bad” by someone who was supposed to help.

I wish proper training for mental health and stigma was required in order for someone to work in any area of healthcare considering many people who experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-injurious behavior and who seek help are unsatisfied with the level of care they received. I would like to believe that the growing mental health conversation has made it easier for people to seek help when it’s needed, but I know that my story of stigma from a healthcare worker isn’t the only one and won’t be the last. Many providers have started using person-centered approaches when discussing self-injury, and there have been changes in the way questions are framed to help decrease the stigma. However, more often than not, we’ve already experienced stigma when trying to receive help.

It took many years, but I can now say that my injuries were bad enough. Regardless of their severity, I was hurting myself. I was a child, and, even if it was the “bare minimum,” I deserved basic empathy. Just as a human being. As someone who self-harmed. I deserve compassion. I deserve to be cared for and heard. As do you.

We shouldn’t be defined by the ways we cope whether it’s something of the past, present, or future. We deserve to seek help without worrying about how others may react or perceive us. We deserve to seek help without stigma from those tasked with caring for us. Our experiences are real, and our pain is too. We are hurting humans, and we are still worthy of love.

You are worthy of love and grace, from others and yourself. You are enough, here and now. If you’re dealing with self-injury or self-harm, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].

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Comments (4)

  1. Lauren


    Reply  |  
  2. Pen

    I’m so sorry you experienced this. Healthcare workers can harsh. I had an oncologist say to me I should be more grateful because my cancer could be worse. I will never be grateful for cancer. We all deserve good care for whatever ails us! I am glad you’re still here!

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  3. Lea Rader

    Proper training is essential for any health care worker even the receptionist answering the initial call for help. Their words can help or harm anyone seeking help.

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  4. Sarah Brecht

    First, Do No Harm. I have been in contact with doctors and nurses who treated me cruel. I wish I had the courage at the time to ask them if this is how they would like their daughter treated? How can the medical professionals that we trust to get us well, be so damaging to vulnerable patients who need their help the most? To this day, I can hear the doctors and nurses words and how worthless I felt. I wish I could explain to them how hurtful their treatment and comments were to me. I would volunteer to sit down with any doctors or nurses to help spread awareness and understanding about mental illness. I’m sorry to hear of your experience with the professions who are there to help but end up hurting us more.

    Reply  |  
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