I’ve grown tired of the surprised, sometimes baffled expressions of folks who look at me like I’m crazy and make passing comments like, “That’s not something black people do.” But it is. And it’s happening more and more frequently.
A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry revealed that young black women are more likely than girls of any other race to self-harm, but the least likely to receive psychological treatment for it. And, even more surprisingly, black boys are the most likely to injure themselves. But getting help for our children is a minefield of challenges. There are financial constraints: mental health services are complicated by insurance logistics and out-of-pocket expenses. And in comparison to the litany of necessary household bills, elective treatments like therapy rank dismally low on the list of priorities.
Besides, mental health care is still roundly stigmatized in the black community. There are far, far fewer folks willing to admit they either need to or have gone to a psychologist than people who could benefit from some regular couch time – which is just about everyone at some point. The stigmas around seeing a therapist and the stereotypes around cutting have made getting help for kids suffering from the compulsion to self-injure that much harder. Together with the difficulty of finding a counselor who would even bother returning my calls, even in my urgency, it’s been a frustrating experience on so many levels.
In real life, not knowing exactly what triggers my daughter’s desire to cut has been frightening, to the point of being scared to discipline her for fear any kind of punishment will send her into a tailspin. On bad days, when she would come home from school upset or get scolded at home, I’d move her into my room at bedtime and trail her to the bathroom to keep her from cutting. I’ve herded the household scissors into a hiding place, but when the scissors were gone, she used paper clips. When the paper clips were snatched, she used earring posts. There’s an infinite supply of sharp-edged objects to inflict harm on the person who’s determined to self-mutilate.
Skylar’s cutting has waned over the last few months, but there are times when looking at her scars makes me want to break out in a fit of sobs. The psychiatrist we found diagnosed her with depression. But, she is holding off on medication in favor of regular sessions to try instilling the coping skills that will hopefully replace the urge to take her emotions out on her body. She’s a beautiful girl, but she wears some pretty deep war wounds. For a long time, she wouldn’t be caught in short sleeves because she was embarrassed. Sometimes I’ll catch people looking at her arm. Eventually, I’ll look into a procedure to remove the scars. For now, I’m more concerned about healing the pain she takes out on her body in the first place.