Thursday, February 12, 2009

self injury and personal bias

Self evaluation and reflection is a good thing.  It helps us become better at our jobs and it helps us become better people.  When I was in school we had to spend copious amounts of time examining our attitudes and our biases.  It's not that I've forgotten about that, but I had an experience recently that made me remember to be cautious and showed me an area I'm bias about.  

When most of us think about self injury/self harm we probably think about similar things as portrayed in the picture above (or maybe not, I know I do at least).  A young white female struggling with depression/body image stuff.  That's what most of the books are about, the population the studies have been done on etc... I've gotten used to seeing the evidence of self injury on females from all walks of life, but even though they say at least 10% of people who self injure are male, and that it's probably higher, I tend to miss it when it comes to men.  

I had a person come into the drunk tank who defied all my stereo types.  I was shift manager (yet again, sigh) and so my coworker doing the intake got me to come down and decide if we would accept this particular person or if we would insist the police take him to the hospital.  The only acute injury seemed to be a slightly bleeding nose, but, the shirtless youth, was covered in cuts and scrapes and scars.  My first though was that he was a gang member, who had seen a little too much action lately.  But as I talked to the police, and to him, it became evident that the cuts and scars were self inflicted.  And it really changed my perspective.  

I suddenly saw this man, younger then myself, as a victim instead of an offender.  Here he was, broken, and in pain, getting thrown into the drunk tank once again.  Maybe he is in a gang, maybe he does get in fights, but there's more going on there.  It gave me cause to think about WHY.  I got my coworker to write up a crisis referral suggestion for him to, while he may not use it, at least it's something...  


Reas Kroicowl said...

Young men do injury themselves, just not in the classic "with a razor on their arms" kind of way. They will bang their heads against walls, punch themselves, pull their hair. They'll deliberately put themselves in dangerous situations that could easily result in injury: for instance, doing bicycle tricks with no helmet and little practice. You just have to go through the side door with the questioning. But yes, this man you saw defied stereotypes.

I talked to a man who was bulimic once--they're out there too.

David G. Markham said...

I admire your perceptiveness and sensitivity.

Keep up the good work!

All the best,

David Markham