UNITED STATES—Evolution of Self Harm.

We are coming up upon December 23, the anniversary of the day in 1888 that Vincent Van Gogh chopped off his own ear. More than 100 years after the incident a new book came out with speculation that it was not Van Gogh himself that did the lopping, but rather his sword-loving friend Paul Gauguin, who was working with Van Gogh the day of the incident.

Due to the lack of proof, and combined with the fact that he did end up committing suicide: I believe that depression was the root cause of all his behavior and madness.

What about the concept of self-harm before Van Gogh?

The term itself is mentioned in a 1914 Journal by a psychologist that believed self-harm had to do with sexual release, but the earliest acts of self-harm may be something done for a much different reason. I came across an interesting tale while researching the term “cutting off the nose to spite your own face.” It says that Mother Superior, 867 AD, told the women to disfigure themselves in an attempt to protect their virginity against the raiding Vikings. As a result, the Vikings burned down the monastery and all of the women inside.

There are numerous rumored cases of women doing this to themselves and it corresponds with what I know about women with untreated childhood post-traumatic stress disorder from sexual causation: they will do everything from scratching up their faces to not brushing their hair to wearing dirty clothes in an effort to  deflect the gaze of the abuser or others like him.

Since we know that post-traumatic stress disorder can be shared, it is logical to assume that women have  tried to disfigure themselves, or even their daughters, in an attempt to protect in times of forced slavery.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

There is also a similar practice by men, and monks, in other countries. Not only do they practice flagellation alone as seen above, but they also do in large groups that can be seen in the photo below.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Let’s get back to the current state, what self-harm has evolved into. I find decade old statistics from NPR that say nearly 2 million Americans “practice some form of self-injury” and my experience with teen female youth is that many are scarred and talk openly about it, frequently telling other young girls not to do it. This works in the case of the stereotypical arms showing cutting, but there are many other forms that one may not see.

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is a group of researchers and scientists whose mission is “dissemination of scientific research” tells us that although there is much debate, other accepted forms of self-injurious behaviors are:  scratching, cutting, punching, banging, biting, ripping, or tearing the skin; carving on the self, and burning.

One of the reported causes of humans self-injuring is depression, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15.7 million adults aged 18 and over suffered a “major depressive episode” in 2013. I laugh at such statistics knowing how many unreported cases I know of, and using that to speculate how many unreported cases there are.

Coming upon the end of this year, I would like to ask that we all remember the late Robin Williams and others who reach beyond self-harm and to suicide.

I take a controversial stand on this topic and recommend an article titled There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide.

While I think it is cowardly for one to take their life without letting others know when and why so that they can say goodbye, or maybe even address any possible illogical thought processes, I also believe it is selfish for people to think the chronically mentally ill should stick around for the benefit of others who are not supportive.

This is why I believe we should have death with dignity laws for mental illness here in America.