We often hear the term self-harm and it wrongly has associations with ‘emo’s’ ‘goth’s’ and those who are seeking attention from others, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. I recently wrote an article for Mental Healthy on the huge rise of young people receiving medical treatment for self-harm and at the same time of hearing of these statistics, came across a YouTube video of a very brave young man from the US speaking out about his experiences of that and homophobic bullying. You can watch his video here (please note that it may contain material you may find upsetting and please by mindful about this before choosing to view it)
2011 has been a whirlwind year for me, Men Get Eating Disorders Too and of course my colleagues and I think this year we have seen some brilliant recognition of not only the charity but also the very reason we exist. While we still have a long way to go in what we do and what we want to achieve as it is the last day of 2011 I thought it would be a good idea to recap what has gone on!
First off at MGEDT we released our first ever national leaflet and poster campaign which was distributed around the UK to healthcare professionals, voluntary organisations and distributed heavily at events and conferences we attended throughout the year. This was shortly followed by our first ever national conference to address the issue of men and eating disorders, which featured some of our supporters, professionals and staff from the charity. We also had some good media coverage this year, including appearances live on national television, national and local radio, print and online articles and various blogs and guest columns.
Possibly the biggest achievement this year was the launch of our first ever live support chat sessions, the only sessions of their kind worldwide to offer specific support to men with eating disorders. This pilot session will continue to run into early 2012 but I personally feel it has been a massive success, giving men the opportunity to speak out about their issues in a safe environment, easing the isolation they have as a result of their issues.
Personally, I have had some fantastic experiences this year, from media appearances to challenges with Sarah, all the way to sitting on a research panel for Oxford University and the Men’s Health steering group. If anything it proves that the issues of eating disorders and body image in men are starting to be taken seriously, with more organisations and bodies realising the need to have representation of these issues, which is a big step in the world of men’s health.
It has also been a fantastic year for press, with several high profile research studies and figure releases highlighting the very need for increased service provision, better awareness and more support availability, both peer and professional.
In July 2011, the Royal College of General Practitioners released figures showing a 66% rise in the number of men being admitted for the treatment of eating disorders in the UK, urging GP’s to be more aware of the symptoms of eating disorders in men.
In August 2011 another set of statistics were released regarding the rise in eating disorder cases in young people, including a large amount of boys. This again led to national scale publicity in most major publications, radio and television.
In September 2011 there was a slightly different release which was all about the rise in weight loss surgery in young people, including a large amount of men. This was a good release as it is important to recognise that eating disorders are not necessarily restrictive but lesser known disorders such as binge and compulsive eating can cause just as many problems for sufferers and yet are not seen in the same light in restricting disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
A lot of other stuff went on too, including the UK’s first ever fat talk free week, a highlight of self-harm in young people and a lot of focus on the effects of bullying to the mental health of all young people. We also saw really busy periods in both men’s health week and eating disorders awareness week. So much more happened in what I think has been our biggest and busiest year yet, but I have concentrated on some of the really key points here.
Undoubtedly, we still have a long way to go to make sure the appropriate recognition is given to male body image, eating disorders and mental health as a whole, but I would like to think that in 2011 we made a very good start. We have lots of stuff going on in 2012 to make sure that eating disorders and men’s mental health will remain firmly on the agenda and hopefully go that extra mile, building on what we have achieved this year. I would personally like to get out to more universities, deliver more training to professionals and stay on the media train to get our message out there.
All that is really left to do is thank everyone that has supported our campaigns, told their stories and contributed to the massive successes this year. It has been a good year for our cause, we have a long way to go still, but all in all, I think we made a good deal of progress.
So I have written quite a bit about self-harm in the last few weeks for both Mental Healthy & Keep Smilin’ and covered the topic in some depth. All of my writing was concentrated on self-harm itself and coping strategies to get away from it, but what about after, when all that is left is the scars?
Today on the body image advent we covered just that topic, had a few submissions and Sarah and I did our own little videos on our thoughts on the subject.
In my video I spoke a little bit about a body being a little bit like a book, in that it tells a story about you, your life, your accomplishments and indeed the not so good bits. Every notch, nook, cranny, scar and mark has a story, each like a word in a book, so when you put it all together you get a story.
I really believe this and think that no matter what, it tells your story, it is part of you and in turn you should be proud of it. People who have self-harmed speak of shame, embarrassment and so many spend the rest of their lives covered up, daring not to show the scars with the dread of having to explain them to people. It was no different from me, yes I self-harmed as a teenager, is that a bad thing? Does it make me a bad person? Well no it doesn’t, if anything it is a sign that whoever it may be had a tough time, dealt with it and moved on with their lives, which in my eyes make those scars quite the show of strength.
Of course we have the funny moments, the scars from going flying, falling while messing around as a kid. We have the one’s that bring back memories of a good night or a good day out and we manage to look at them positively as like a ‘battle wound’ so to speak, so why do we inherently look on the scars that were deliberate as something negative, something bad, something to be ashamed of?
I think it is important to remember that it is nothing to be ashamed of, it is just another scar. But at the same time, I think it is important that we don’t ignore them, as they do tell their own story. It may be a funny one, a tragic one, an embarrassing one or even a sad one, but they are part of who we are, the chapter in our life.
As for those people that have self-harmed and carry those scars with them all the time the message is simple, while I am not saying to show them off, they are a show of strength, something you took ownership of and stopped, conquered and dealt with. It’s not a chapter that should be left out of our own little body book, if anything it is something to celebrate, as scars are something that were, not something that are anymore.
Here are my ramblings in video for the challenge;