Is Self-Harm a Form of Mental Illness?

While writing my latest novel, HIGH FLYING, I wanted to create a complex, self-debasing character that struggles with her past and self-image and, at the same time, recognizes her inability to connect with others. Throughout her adolescence, she longs to be “normal” like other people, but self-harm becomes her vice and the quickest, most effective way to deal with the negativity in her life…until she finds a powerful solution.

In the course of researching this subject, I discovered that cutting is a common form of deliberate self-harm and may co-occur with other self-injurious behaviors such as skin-burning, hair-pulling, and anorexia, and that people who cut themselves often use razors, knives, or other sharp objects. UnknownHowever, cutting is not typically an attempt at suicide or long-term self-harm. Rather, it is an immediate reaction to stress that provides release for the person who cuts. They may accidentally sever a vein or artery, which can be life-threatening, but this behavior is not listed in the DSM-IV as a mental health disorder. Instead, it is related to other impulse control conditions such as pyromania (obsession with fires), kleptomania (persistent stealing), and/or pathological gambling.

Self-harm can also be a symptom of borderline personality (BPD), as well as factitious disorders, which occur when a person fakes an illness or believes he or she has a disease they haven’t truly contracted. People who cut themselves may also suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other stress-related conditions.

Outpatient therapy using a variety of methods, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, can be highly effective at teaching people more effective skills for coping with stress. However, unless treated, cutting is a behavior that tends to escalate, resulting in  more severe and frequent cutting over time. People who have been cutting for an extended period of time may require inpatient treatment, which involves group therapy, individual therapy, and when necessary, psychotropic medication to help mitigate the psychological factors that contribute to cutting.

Often therapy for treating this disorder involves redirection–a sort of reprograming mechanism, for dealing with stressful situations. This might involve various forms of self-expressive art, tennis, boxing, or other activities as a means for releasing pent-up emotions, tension and anxiety. Support, compassion and understanding by friends, family members and anyone aware of this condition is also very important. Society as a whole needs to understand that anyone who has a history of cutting or other obsessive disorders is fully capable of leading a healthy, normal life, if given the chance to do so.

Great 5-Star Review!

So excited by the new 5-star review I received today for my latest release – Severed Threads. When authors receive positive feedback like this, it only encourages us to return to the typewriter to conjure up more adventures and dramatic story lines. So I thank you, Suzanne Gattis, for your non-basis appraisal and vote of confidence in my writing ability. Kaylin

“Sometimes it is only when you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders that you really see what it is you want and what it is you are missing out of life.  Such is the epiphany that Rachel Lyons comes to in the ever-suspenseful Severed Threads.  Kaylin McFarren’s novel takes the reader through twists and turns as the story navigates romance and adventure, murder and mystery.  With a central theme of guilt and deception, throughout all the action of the book, the reader sees the redemption of several of the characters; lessons are learned and bridges are built and crossed.

Believing herself to be the reason for her father’s death, Rachel has withdrawn from the world and the life she once knew to play it safe.  With her last words to him replaying over and over in her head, playing it safe still wasn’t bringing her much happiness.  She is stuck on this track until an old flame comes back into the picture, with tales of sunken treasure and undersea adventure.  Forced into taking part in his quest because of the kidnapping of her brother, who has himself created a world of chaos after the passing of his father, Rachel sets out on a journey to discover hidden secrets, buried treasure, and herself.  Throw in a little paranormal activity, curses and ghosts and such, and some strong sexual attractions, and the book will keep you on the edge of your toes throughout.

With so many plot turns and the many characters’ underlying stories, this novel is a true treasure unto itself.  As a reader, I couldn’t put the book down because I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next.  Many of the ups and downs were not obvious, and I enjoyed the surprise as each revelation was made.  The characters are extremely complex but real, and I found myself being very involved in their thoughts and actions.  I felt for each character, questioned their reasoning and cheered them on.

It is easy to see through reading this book that McFarren familiarized herself with the information she was presenting in her book.  The time and information she put into the history and the undersea world lent depth to the book and helped to present a very genuine story.  I enjoy nothing more than a well-researched, thought-provoking read, and Severed Threads definitely found itself in that category for me.” • SUZANNE GATTIS, Pacific Book Review

http://www.kaylinmcfarren.com