Professor Stephen Lewis on the scope and nature of self-injury

Prof. Stephen Lewis, Department of Psychology, was 15 when he first self-injured by cutting himself. In a TEDx talk delivered earlier this year, Lewis describes how bullying led to a major depression and how over time he became suicidal.

The road to recovery was long and difficult, but “I can let others know that as dark as it may seem, there is still light at the end of the tunnel.”

Today, Lewis is studying the scope and nature of self-injury on social networks, self-injury recovery, and ways to effectively reach and help those who self-injure. He also co-founded Self-Injury Outreach and Support, which provides information and resources about self-injury to those who need help, those who have recovered and those who want to help.

One in five adolescents and young adults will deliberately injure themselves by cutting or burning, but the behaviour is often misunderstood or stigmatized. We asked Lewis how parents can help if their son or daughter is self-injuring:

  • • Do not ignore the problem it is a sign of distress and may indicate mental health difficulties
  • • Listen without trying to correct, problem solve or suggest. Focus the conversation on your son or daughter’s feelings and behaviour, and build trust.
  • • If your child is at immediate risk of potential life-threatening behaviour, take him or her to the hospital. Otherwise, take them to a doctor, psychologist or metal health worker — you can’t treat self-injury yourself.
  • • Have patience. There are often setbacks on the road to recovery.
  • • Maintain a positive outlook and keep communicating with your child throughout the treatment process.

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