Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Maybe you've been out somewhere and have seen someone in passing, or even a friend, or a co-worker with a bandage on their arm/wrist, or have seen visible scars branding someone's body that seem like they were deliberately placed.  Maybe the thought has crossed your mind "Why would anyone want to cut themselves?"  

Self-harm doesn't just affect one's body, but also their mind, and spirit.  It also just isn't about someone cutting themselves to feel pain or trying to escape life.

In fact, those who participate in self-harm, are often looking to feel better.  Those who are searching this feeling get a "high" from having the power & control over their mind and body, and it can feel euphoric, releasing certain endorphins.  Those who self-harm aren't always looking to end their lives, but in certain situations, this can be their reason for self-harm.  There are also tragic "overdoses" of self-harm where one can accidentally end their lives.

Self-harm doesn't just fall into cutting.  There are many methods people use, and can often move from one to another when that high isn't attainable anymore.

  • Cutting (often with razor blades, scissors or glass)
  • Burning
  • Hitting
  • Scratching or picking at skin
  • Hair pulling
  • Inserting objects into body
Behaviours also considered as self-harm:
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drug addiction
  • Food (binge eating or starvation)
  • Sex (many partners, unprotected)
Why does someone indulge in self-harm?  There is something in that person's life that is leading them to feel like they need to do this to themselves.  A traumatic experience (past or present), lack of coping skills, difficult relationships, financial woes, death of a family member or friend, battling a mental health disorder, battling a physical disability, issues academically, dealing with sexuality, abusive relationships (emotionally and physically), being bullied, and having issues at work.  There may also be psychological reasons that someone self-harms, such as hearing voices, repeated thoughts of doing it, forcing you to act upon to make the thoughts go away, and it could be a symptom of a borderline personality disorder.  This list is certainly not exhaustive as anything can trigger someone to want to self-harm.  T

How does someone get over the urge to do this to themselves?  Well there are many ways, but it takes time, effort and the person's own desire to stop.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - helps to identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors by slowly introducing them, and learning to cope with healthy & positive skills
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy - a brand of CBT (above) that teaches behavioral skills to help tolerate distress, manage or regulate emotions and improve relationships
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy - focuses on identifying past experiences, hidden memories or interpersonal issues at the root of emotional difficulties through self-examination guided by a therapist (source Mayo Clinic)
  • Medications - while there are no meds to treat self-harming behavior, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants or other medications to help treat a mental health disorder surrounding the self-harm behavior
If you or someone you know are self-harming, your first step to recovery is to confide in someone you trust.  If you can't confide in someone who is close to you just yet, you can call to talk to one of our amazing volunteers, at any time of day or night. 


Monday, July 22, 2013

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

"Tap three times on the right, tap three times on the left."
"I have to check to make sure the oven is off, the lights are out, the door has been locked.  Okay, check again.  The oven is off..."
"My hands are still dirty from that germ-infested bus ride home from work, I'll keep washing them."
"If I change my morning routine even the slightest bit, my family will all get sick and die."

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

What is it?  OCD (as most commonly used) is an anxiety disorder in that people who are affected by it, have both obessive and compulsive tendancies.  OCD affects 1-2% of the population, and usually becomes present in late teens-mid twenties, although some people say they noticed

What is the difference between an obession and a compulsion?  An obsession is generally a thought that is disturbing and unwanted, unprovked, that come to mind that are either in the form of an image or an impulse that cause a great deal of anxiety or distress.  A compulsion is a behavior that is deliberate, needed, like washing something, checking something, ordering something, or a mental act like counting & repeating.  Compulsions are acted upon by the person affected to "help to reduce the anxiety" caused by the obession, when in turn can cause additional anxiety.

How is OCD diagnosed?  Well first, the person must be willing to see a doctor.  A doctor will run a series of physical, labratory and pyschological exams.  The doctor will talk to you regarding your thoughts, feelings, how you are physically feeling, how you cope, and what triggers set your obsession and compulsions off.  You may also be asked about thoughts of self-harm, harming others, or suicide ideations.   It is so important to be honest with your doctor about all of the above so that a proper testing and a diagnosis can be made.

What kind of treatment is available for OCD sufferers?  There are a couple options, and depending on what your doctor thinks is best, there may be a combination of the variety.  A type of psychotherapy called "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy" (CBT) may be used - it's an exposure and response therapy.  It involves the person becoming gradually exposed to their obession, and learning healthy ways to cope.  You may do this therapy alone, or your doctor may invite your loved ones who are closest with you to participate as well.

There are also antidepressants and antianxiety medications that may be prescribed, which can elevate levels of seretonin, which with OCD, can be lacking.  There are a few to choose from, and once prescribed, and the person has been taking them for a minimum of 2 weeks, it's ideal to note how you're feeling, how you are coping with the OCD, and what is and is not working for you.  Your doctor will be able to make adjustments of the medication if you find it's not working out. 

Above all, know that you're not alone.  Our volunteers here at the Distress Centre of Ottawa & Region are ALWAYS here for you, no matter what.  613-238-3311 anytime of day or night.