Resources for Groups
If you are considering talking more in-depth with your students in class, with youth workers or parents who are a part of your faith community about self-injury and don't know where to begin, I have some resources for you. This page is a work in progress, and I will add more resources as I find/create them. For now, I have five resources available:
Self-Injury and Faith Communities: A Reddit Post
I subscribe to the subreddit r/selfharm, and a recent post asks some powerful questions about Christians who self-injure. If you are reading this on mobile, it might be better to go straight to the post via the link. If the post gets taken down from Reddit, I have added a PDF below so you can download the image directly.
Source: "Christians Who Self-Harm" r/selfharm https://www.reddit.com/r/selfharm/comments/a4c2w4/christians_who_selfharm/?st=JPG6VL2D&sh=bd3c4a5b
The questions that can accompany a discussion about this post with the group could be something like:
1) What feelings did this post bring up for you while you were reading it? (mad, sad, glad or afraid?)
2) In what life-giving ways could the vicar/minister have responded to this person?
3) What community resources currently exist that you could suggest to this person?
4) In what practical ways could you support this person if they were a part of your faith community?
What is the Difference Between Suicide and Self-Injury? Check Out Cornell's Resources
The Cornell Research Project on Self-Injury and Recovery has some excellent resources available to get conversations going in group settings. One of the main questions I get asked very frequently is how suicide attempts and self-injury differ. This brief handout on this topic from Cornell is excellent. It can be used as a conversation guide with small groups. If the handout gets taken down, just email me and I can send you a copy. It is worth looking at the resources that Cornell provides, as they are in my opinion the BEST site out there on self-injury.
Another great article to use for conversations about this is Muehlenkamp and Kerr's “Untangling a Complex Web: How Non-Suicidal Self-Injury and Suicide Attempts Differ.” It is short and sweet and has formatted like a youth magazine article. See: Muehlenkamp, Jennifer J., and Patrick L. Kerr. “Untangling a Complex Web: How Non-Suicidal Self-Injury and Suicide Attempts Differ.” The Prevention Researcher 17, no. 1 (February 2010): 8-10.
Discussion of a Journal Entry on Self-Injury
In David Finnegan-Hosey's book Christ on the Psych Ward, he writes about his experiences of being hospitalized due to having bipolar disorder, and also about his self-injurious behaviours. He often cuts himself with a razor and also burns himself with a lighter on his arms and stomach. In this particular journal entry, he describes the emptiness and anger towards himself that he experienced as he felt he had "run out of words"; being a writer, this was devastating for him. Here is the journal entry:
I ran out of words the other night
and wrote non-words in cuneiform on my skin
cuts and lines and wedges,
Out of words.
It hurts more to talk, to ask for help.
So cut, cut, cut--
anger contorting and convulsing my face
teeth clenched, muscles spasm-ing
I hide blades and lighters
like an alcoholic hides bottles of booze
And scatter Sharpie markers everywhere
The latter, in case I have words left
the former, in case I run out again.
But it hurts more to speak
when you run out of words.
This poem can be read in small groups and a discussion can take place around the pain that David is experiencing and that he is using self-injury as a way to cope with his pain and he fear that he has lost his words. He goes on in the book to discuss learning how to manage his emotions in therapy using emotion regulation techniques, and also how he learns to write on his arms with markers instead of cutting himself when he feels the urge to hurt himself. He also decides to write bits of scripture on his arms over and over, particularly "My grace is sufficient for you" which helps him and provides him with a reminder of God's presence and care. He warns that it didn't always ward off self-harm, but sometimes it did. All of this could be helpful to discuss in small groups, or in a larger group with guided facilitation. The entire book could also be read as it has excellent theological insights and reflection on mental illness. See: Finnegan-Hosey, David. Christ on the Psych Ward. New York: Church Publishing, 2018, kindle location 1140 (this is from chapter 4 "Sufficient").
Resource # 4
A Short Play
The play is entitled "Cut" and it has a running time of five to six minutes. It is based on Isaiah 53:5 and focusses on four teenaged girls who tell the stories of their self-injury. The girls each take turns speaking about their cutting and their realization that Christ also had wounds. They discuss that they cut in order to feel better and to have control. They finally realize that their self-injury is no longer offering them relief and with the help of a friend, obtain the help they need. This play could be preformed before a talk on self-injury and/or mental health for youth workers, or even with youth groups or with parents of youth.
See: Dave Tippett “Cut” in Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut: Learning to Understand and Help Those Who Self-Injure by Marv Penner. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
A Memoir on Self-Injury and Survival
Victoria Letham's memoir Bloodletting: A True Story of Self-Harm and Survival is an excellent resource for older teens or adults to read in order to understand how self-harm can help people survive when all hope seems lost. Here is an excerpt from chapter 1:
"I had no idea that running a sharp blade across my wrist would change everything so completely. I couldn't pretend anymore and I didn't care. I sat on the kitchen floor of Helen's house and I cried. I knew that I was crossing a line. If I used the knife against myself then I would have transgressed to such an extent that everything else I did, and was ashamed about, would fall away to nothing. I'd be outside the normal social boundaries, in a place where the rules no longer applied. The idea, while frightening, was also extremely seductive - it would mean a sort of freedom. I wasn't after happiness anymore. I just wanted to survive".
This memoir is excellent as it also deals with psychiatric hospitalization, coming to terms with a mental health diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and also how Victoria navigates the stress and strain of trying to keep the friends that she has during and after her self-harming episodes, and the loss she feels when her friends abandon her. This book could be read in small groups. It is a more mature read, best suited for older teens, young adults and also youth workers.
See: Letham, Victoria. Bloodletting: A True Story of Self-Harm and Survival. Great Britain: Allison & Busby Ltd, 2006, 15.