Encouraging writers to present an accurate view of self-harm

Durham University

A couple holding hands in a comforting way

We’ve created new resources designed to help writers present an accurate view of people at risk of self-harm.

Experts and campaigners, including Dr Veronica Heney in our Institute for Medical Humanities, want to encourage a better portrayal of those in mental distress.

There are few representations of self-harm in fiction or other media, but the team think a more thoughtful depiction could help people feel less alone and support their treatment.

Guides for writers

They have produced two guides – one for writers and creatives and another for healthcare professionals – with input from people with experience of self-harm.

The resources are designed to show there is no one way to perfectly represent self-harm – it can be experienced in varied ways and can mean different things to different people – even to the same people at different points in their life.

They also show that fiction can be a way to open up conversations around self-harm or to reflect on assumptions we take for granted.

The team say this can be helpful for healthcare professionals, teachers, and for family and friends of people who self-harm.

Avoid misconceptions

The resources are designed to encourage writers and creatives to avoid misperceptions about who would usually self-harm.

This includes not reinforcing false assumptions, for instance that people who self-harm are seeking attention or are manipulative, or that self-harm itself is bizarre and inexplicable.

It asks writers to be aware that always ending stories with recovery could feel hopeful, but can also make ongoing self-harm or scars harder to talk about or recognise.

Writers are also asked to reflect on what they write and how this might shape how people who self-harm are treated.

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