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Northern Michigan University Questioned Over Its Self-Harm Policy

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On March 25, 2015, Katerina Klawes, a student at Northern Michigan University (NMU), received an email from the school’s associate dean of students, Mary Brundage, telling Klawes she was prohibited from talking to her peers about any suicidal or self-destructive thoughts she might have. Discussing these topics with other students, Brundage said, would be in violation of the school’s “self-destructive policy,” and could result in disciplinary action.

“Engaging [sic] in any discussion of suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions with other students interferes with, or can hinder, their pursuit of education and community,” Brundage wrote in an email Klawes shared with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “It is important that you refrain from discussing these issues with other students and use the appropriate resources listed below. If you involve other students in suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions you will face disciplinary action. My hope is that, knowing exactly what could result in discipline, you can avoid putting yourself in that position.”

Klawes replied to Brundage’s email, asking if Klawes could respond to questions from her friends, also NMU students, who were concerned about her mental health. To which Brundage responded, “You can certainly talk to your friends about how you are doing in general and set their minds at ease. You cannot discuss with other students suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions. It is a very specific limitation.”

Klawes is just one of many NMU students affected by the school’s self-harm policy. According to the Mining Journal, between 25 to 30 students received a similar letter from the NMU administration last fall. In response to the school’s policy, Klawes launched a petition on Change.org, asking the university to change its policies. Within the first 24 hours, the letter had over 2,000 signatures.

After receiving word of Klawes’s petition, FIRE – a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the first amendments rights of college students – launched an investigation into the university’s policies. Following its investigation and additional complaints from students, FIRE sent a letter to the university in August, asking them to repeal their policy and apologize to any students who may have been affected.

NMU’s policy doesn’t just limit student’s constitutional rights, it promotes stigma and ostracizes those who need help. According to an email exchange shared by Klawes’s petition, one student dropped out of NMU in 2011, after threat of disciplinary action increased their depressive and suicidal thoughts.

“Communication with a friend is frequently the pivotal first step toward seeking help, and many students may be more willing to initially share their feelings with a friend than with a school official or therapist,” Dr. Mendel Feldsher, a psychiatrist who has worked with Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services at the Claremont Colleges, told FIRE. “The increasing prevalence of anxiety, depression, and suicidality in college students calls for increasing access to mental health services, not adding to stigma with a policy which promotes increased shame for the depressed and suicidal student.”

NMU did not respond to FIRE’s letter, prompting the organization to issue a national press release, to which the university responded on Friday. NMU posted a statement on its website stating the university has launched a “Mental Health and Well-being Taskforce,” and has changed the way it communicates with students regarding self-harm. The new letter, which lists mental health resources for students, no longer mentions any disciplinary action.

If they changed the policy, it doesn’t seem to make sense with what students are telling us,” Will Creeley, FIRE’s vice president of legal and public advocacy, told The Mighty. According to Creeley, FIRE has received additional complaints from students since the start of 2016, around the time NMU alleges they changed their policy. “It’s only after we issued a national press release that we see the university scramble and say they haven’t been doing this since January.” 

If NMU has changed its policy, it needs to let students know, Creeley said. “They need to make it clear that they will not threaten punishment for speaking to peers and then we can call it a day.” 

On Monday, the university emailed students letting them know students are not forbidden from talking or writing to others about thoughts of self-harm. The university acknowledged, in an email shared with The Mighty by an unnamed NMU student, “that changes to the self-harm letter and protocol were not effectively communicated to campus in early 2016 when they took effect.”

The Mighty reached out to Northern Michigan University for comment and has yet to hear back. 

Update: This post has been updated to reflect the nature of complaints FIRE has received since the beginning 2016, as well as an email sent by NMU to university students on Monday. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Related: Students Need to Be Able to Discuss Suicidal Thoughts With Their Friends

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10 Things I’m Learning Along the Journey to Self-Harm Recovery

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I have struggled with self-harm for years. I am on the path to recovery, and I figured I would share some things I have learned on my journey, both with self-injury and depression/anxiety.

1. Recovery isn’t pretty.

It is not a beautiful trip. It is panic attacks, emotional outbursts, relapses and a constant yearning to put that razor to my arm and just let it all out. It is a continuous battle of what is worse: the anxiety or the guilt I feel after I relapse. It is looking down at my scars and hating them. Yet, I want to add more so they don’t fade away. It’s my family and friends worrying about me and me feeling guilty because if I had never told them, then they wouldn’t worry.

2. Some people don’t understand, and that’s OK.

They wonder, “How I could do that to myself?” In truth, you can only understand if you have felt that pain. I wouldn’t ever wish that on anyone, not even someone I hate.

3. No matter how old the scars get, I want to hide them.

It doesn’t matter that no one would notice them. I’ve been taught by society would only be “looking for attention” if I let people see them.

4. Sometimes recovery isn’t that hard; sometimes it is torture.

There are days when I don’t even think about hurting myself. Those are the really good days. Sometimes, I think about it, but I can easily distract myself. That is most days. Other days, I sit and stare blankly at my arms and legs, feeling hollow and empty. The only thing on my mind is how it would make everything go away. The little voice in my head tells me how good it used to make me feel and how relaxing it was to just watch myself hurt. Those are the days I relapse, and unfortunately, they happen more often than they should.

5. Occasionally, someone is going to act as if I’m not trying hard enough.

They act as if I just tried harder, then I could stop completely. If I just didn’t think that way, then the anxiety and depression would stop. If I just did “blank,” it would make me better. Sometimes, I have to remind myself I don’t have to listen to this, and I am allowed to be upset. No one knows exactly what goes through my head, and no one can feel exactly how I feel.

6. Sometimes, I may feel like I am not doing enough, trying hard enough.

I hear people saying this, affirming this idea and I think maybe they are right. Sometimes, I need to be told I am doing my best. I am doing enough, even if it isn’t what I used to do before this took over my life.

7. Sometimes, I will look back on who I used to be.

I look at what I used to do and how different I am now that my depression, anxiety and self-harm has changed me. I used to be the perfect student. I used to have a social life. I used to do so much more. Now, I struggle to get up in the morning and to find meaning in each day. I used to have a plan for what I wanted to be and do. Now, I barely have a plan for the next week, even the next day, let alone years.

8. I am not who I used to be.

Sure, there are parts of me that remain constant, unwavering. Yet, my experiences will change me for the good or the worse. On the bright side, it might make me more understanding of others, more compassionate, but it might make me more closed off and bitter.

9. I will see ignorant people spewing trash about what I struggle with.

I have learned to ignore it or it will only anger me. I have learned to roll my eyes and say, “Of course, this is all in my head. It’s a mental disorder. Where else would it be, my toe?”

10. I learned how much people love me.

Whether it be my friends or family, there are people who love me. I learned to keep that close to me for the dark times.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Why It's Time to Get Rid of My Favorite Pair of Pajama Pants

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Editor’s Note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

There is a blood stain on my favorite pajama pants from where I once cut myself. I can’t seem to let these pants go. It wasn’t like they were expensive, and it’s not like they make me look good. They’re “Iron Man” pajama pants I bought six years ago and miraculously still fit me after weight gains and pregnancy. I look terrible in them. They’ve just always been my favorite. Yet, right on the thigh, if you look close enough, there is a blood stain on Iron Man’s arm, spreading across the comic strip on the pants.

It’s a painful reminder too, because I normally don’t remember when I self-harm. Granted, it’s been a long while since I have harmed myself (and for that I’m very proud). Still, the night I did that is still so clear. I remember grabbing the knife. I remember cutting in the bathroom. I remember the next day the pants I put on after I cut were stuck to my leg. I remember every moment of hiding my scar that summer and feeling the shame. It’s been three years.

Like I’ve said, it’s been awhile since I’ve hurt myself. I haven’t made a suicide attempt in a while. I haven’t abused any medications. I haven’t cut, burned or maimed myself. I’m pretty proud of myself, but this doesn’t mean I’m cured. I still have urges. There are still some moments that are so overwhelming, I know if I just cut, even a small cut, I would find some relief and be able to breathe.

For me, cutting was a breath of fresh air. It was like relieving pressure. It’s still hard to stay away from this injurious behavior, when I know in the moment it will be such a quick fix.

Yet, I’m constantly brought back to the shame I felt after. I felt like I was walking around with a giant sign on my back that said “freak”or “crazy.” I wanted to hide a lot of times. I felt like everyone knew, but if I’m being honest, I wanted nothing more than someone to notice. I wanted my friends to point out the scar. I wanted my band mate to talk to me, to make sure I was OK. I wished my boss would notice I was depressed. I hoped my then boyfriend would have said something or contacted my family.

But no one did. Everyone stayed silent.

A heart shaped tattoo with the word "Myself" written in the middle People say cutting is a cry for attention. I’m not agreeing to that, but when I did injure myself, I wished someone would notice. I wanted to stop the cycle. I wanted to stop hurting myself. Yet, once I gave in, it felt like there was no letting up until someone stepped in. It’s no one else’s fault when someone is cutting, but when you’re the person who cuts, it’s a lonely world. You feel unloved, alone and it only feeds into wanting to hurt and hate yourself more.

I hit my three year mark this year of being “sober” from suicide attempts, and I wanted to reward myself. So in place of the scar I bear on my leg, I replaced it with a reminder to always love myself. I spent time and money on a gorgeous tattoo to cover up my scar. And you know, I’ve looked at it enough that I’m starting to believe I am lovable.

I’m not cured. I know I’m going to slip at some point in my life. I’m not perfect, and I never know when my mind will go south again. I’m scared because I have control, but at the same time, I can’t completely control my brain chemistry. There is a lot riding on me now.

People say I’m lucky because I have a husband and a child, but I don’t think that’s true. I feel unlucky because if I slip up, then I could lose everything. I’m terrified of what the future holds. Sometimes, I’m terrified of myself. Although the urges are still present, I’ve fought them off. Right now, I’m strong, and I’m winning. That’s a victory for me today. I think it’s time to get rid of these pajama pants.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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To the Friends Who Worry About Me

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You’re the closest people in my life. Not even my parents know as much as you do, and sometimes I don’t know if they ever will. You have to understand when I talk about things too much and it’s the last thing you want to hear from me (especially as I’ve probably brought it up a million times before), I need to say it. I need you to listen. I need you to believe me when I tell you my fears and worries are real and rampant in my mind at all hours.

I don’t need you to say everything will be OK. See, I struggle between not knowing what is real or imaginary. When I come to you saying I cannot sleep because I fear a man is hiding in my closet, it hurts me so much when you say this couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t need you to tell me no one is in there. In my mind, there are several people in there, waiting until I turn out the lights and close my eyes to get me.

When you come into my room while tears are streaming down my face, as I’m rocking back and forth and using everything in my power to not harm myself in some way, I don’t need you to sit next to me and tell me it’s going to be OK. I know it’s going to be OK, but right now, it’s not. At this moment, it might never be OK.

When you see the cuts I forgot to cover up, please don’t think I’ve fallen off the wagon again. Please, don’t question me and make me feel alone. It’s not about bringing more pain into my life or punishing myself. Honestly, I cannot explain the reasoning behind why I need to do it sometimes, but don’t at other times. When I do it, it just feels like I’m releasing the pent up feelings I don’t know how to properly express in any other way.

Finally, when I close my eyes, look away, dig my fingers into my skin or close the door for too many hours, please don’t ignore me. Please, give me my time and space and don’t attack me with a barrage of questions, but also don’t leave me. I know that’s hard to do.

I know it’s difficult to know what I need and what I don’t. Just don’t forget about my little tells that something is not right. I appreciate when you ask later in the day if something you said bothered me or if I was having flashbacks. It makes me feel better when you come to me and ask those things, rather than asking why I didn’t come to dinner or why I didn’t speak up when you were talking to me.

I know you worry about me. I know you think I’m OK until you see me in a fit. I know you think telling me things will calm down will in turn calm me down. It doesn’t. What I need from you is to take me inside my closet and sit with me until we both believe with all our migh there is nobody inside. I need you to stand with me as I flashback into a negative moment in time. I need you to be strong with me and not write off my problems or pretend I don’t have as many problems as you do.

While you worry about me, I worry about myself, too. But I also worry about you. I worry you won’t ever see myself as someone who is healing, as someone who is strong enough to know when to ask for help. I want you to know when I come to you, it’s a big step. I hope you won’t write me off again.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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To the Friend Who Learned of My Self-Harm – and Still Stayed

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You’ve always known a lot, probably too much, about me, even before the day you found my knife. When I let you see my knife, I should say, because I was so desperate for someone to see, to know, my filthy secret — to have someone I wouldn’t have to lie to. Even before then, you’d understood. You didn’t question my insecurities or quietness. So I’m not sure why I assumed this one last big fact would change things. I did think that, though.

I honestly believed, as I turned my back and told you to go away, to leave me alone, that you would do as I said. I’m not sure you’ve realized how important it was that you didn’t. The fact that you stayed, poked my shoulder and smiled at me with those eyes that said I wasn’t a freak, the fact that you gave me a lift home and teased me like always — it saved my life.

Four months later, I stood at the edge of a road bridge. You were my proof the world didn’t hate me and someone would miss me if I jumped. You don’t know that. Six months later, you sent me an email from halfway across the world saying you’d like to hear from me. I realized maybe our friendship wasn’t only me relying on you, that maybe people could actually want me.

One year later, you came up to me after my first therapy session and asked me how it went. You smiled sympathetically with those eyes, which still said I wasn’t a freak. You didn’t know if it hadn’t been for you, I’d never have gone in the first place.

I won’t tell you these things either, because it would feel weird. But I hope you know how much I love you.

People, if you have a friend like me, a friend who doesn’t smile much, then smile at them anyway. It might just save a life.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

 

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5 Things I Wish People Understood About Those Who Self-Harm

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Here are some things I wish people understood about people who self-harm.

1. We don’t want attention if we are not hiding our scars.

Just like everyone else, people who self-harm enjoy summertime, which often means more skin showing. It can take a lot for people who self-harm to show our scars because we can feel vulnerable and exposed. Know we went through a lot of pain. It got to the point to where we inflicted it on ourselves so we had some control over what was hurting us.

2. Please, don’t shame us for our past.

The pain we felt was real to us. Yes, we hurt ourselves. This doesn’t give you permission to dictate how we should feel about it now. Realize we aren’t proud we hurt ourselves; however, if you shame someone who is recovering, then it is possible you throw them back into the loop of self-harm, temporary relief, regrets, anger and sadness.

3. No, this isn’t just some “trend.” It’s a real problem that plagues us daily.

On the internet, it’s easy romanticize mental illnesses, and this can include self-harm. Because of this, many may see self-harm as a trend. Many news channels have brought self-harm to parents’ eyes. Yet, they call it a trend.

Self-harm isn’t a trend. It isn’t glamorous. It isn’t like infinity scarves or skater skirts. For some of us, we get addicted. We come to need it or else we cannot deal with life.

4. Don’t give us false sympathy.

While self-harm is serious and sad, we don’t want to be met with pity. It makes it feel like we can’t trust you. It’s better to say you aren’t sure how to respond than give us false sympathy.

5. Yes, you may ask questions if we’re comfortable with it.

Before you ask us your questions about self-harm, please ask if we are comfortable. Don’t badger us if you ask what happened and we blame the cat or thorn bushes. We might not be comfortable with being honest. Give us time. It may take a while. Someday, I believe the social stigma will go away, and there will be a safe space for people who self-harm to realize they are loved, they matter and they are worth it. There we will know self-harming isn’t worth it anymore because we love ourselves.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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