Self-harming or self mutilation is a topic many are uncomfortable discussing. Young people do it by pulling their hair out or cutting, burning or scratching themselves. Every School Counselor knows about it, parents probably don't know enough. A brave young woman is telling her story to erase the stigma of mental illness. Claire is silent no more, about self harming.
A new study in the Lancet Medical Journal finds in the past 10 years, inpatient hospital admissions for self harming have increased by 68-percent. And one in 12 children and young people self-harm.
When 18-year old Claire Salmon looks in the mirror she sees a beautiful, young lady. 2 years ago she didn't feel that way. Look closer and you'll see the scars of mental illness. Claire self harms, or used to. She's been cutting herself since seventh grade. "For some people it's to feel something because they feel numb" she says. "For me it is to shut out all those feelings. And to create a source of numbness."
Claire's Therapist Lesley Randall says we can all learn from her story. She says a lot of times parents have no idea it's going. "It's because teenagers keep it hidden."
Wendy Solmon is about as normal a mom as you'll meet. "I didn't know anything about the self harming until about two years ago." Wendy says it's easy to be deceived. "It is, it really is."
Lesley Randall says self mutilation is a symptom of mental illness. "But it's not necessarily a symptom of suicide."
She says self mutilation is copy cat behavior. "That is really scary. And that is one thing I think in some High Schools becomes almost an epidemic."
Claire started when she saw another girl do it. She hopes her story keeps other teens from making a big mistake. "I could not have imagined the consequences at that time. It messes up your school life. It can ruin friendships with friends. It can ruin your family relationships. It can ruin things with yourself. It can really postpone your emotional development. I mean. The biggest consequence is death. You know when I was in the Emergency Room both in August and October they told me if you keep going this way you are going to die. And I was so sick it was like I really didn't care at that point because it kind of consumes you."
The good news is Claire is proof people can get better. Two years ago she got the correct diagnosis: She's being treated for Bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety, and Anorexia Nervosa. And Art therapy sessions with Lesley have helped Claire understand what's going on inside.
It hasn't been easy for her mom Wendy. "It's hard not to be angry. I mean I don't blow up at her but internally it's hard not to feel like why are you doing this to yourself. You're such a beautiful child, you're such a beautiful girl. You have so much to live for. And there are other ways of dealing with stress. And one thing she has learned at the partial hospitalization program at Strong is something called DBT, which is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is like a play-book Claire uses to find the right tool to not choose self harming. She also keeps a calendar that shows it's been more than three months since she last cut herself. "It's to have a visual reminder of my progress. And also to have a reminder for her so she can see my progress and appreciate it and it just reminds me to stay on track. It's sort of positive reinforcement. And it's right on the fridge so it's always there.
It's been a learning experience for Claire, her mom, their family and friends. Wendy Salmon has this advice for parents. "As hard as it is, you know you want to explode or get upset or scream at them to stop, because you know you love your child you don't want them to hurt themselves. Try to stay as calm as you can. That's the best thing I can tell them is to stay calm. Get them the help they can. Ask a lot of questions and just give your child a lot of love. Because it is a mental illness. It's a disease just like cancer is. And you wouldn't make fun of anybody who has cancer or any other chronic disease. And we need to treat people with mental illness a lot better than we do."