Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Attending a Self-Harm Awareness Session at ReCoCo

Image credit: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

I wrote recently about how I came to enrol at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and a little of what the college means to me and my friend Vikki Beat. Vikki is a student, volunteer, and course facilitator at ReCoCo.

The first class I enrolled for was a self-harm awareness session led by Steve O’Driscoll who I first met several years ago when I began volunteering for Time to Change. The following description is taken from the ReCoCo website:

A 2.5 hour session delivered by Steve O’Driscoll who self-harmed for over 20 years and managed to overcome his problems and now shares his experiences to help and support others and also facilitates a group in Newcastle to support people who self-harm.

The session is very relaxed and there is plenty of opportunity to ask those unanswered questions around a subject that is still taboo to many in society.

I arrived at Anderson House in plenty of time and made myself a cup of coffee while I was waiting. The session was held in one of the upstairs training rooms and at first it was pretty noisy from the construction work going on outside. Fortunately this eased up for most of the time we were there.

There were six in the class including me and Steve. I know Steve had hoped for a few more, but the numbers worked well for me. I felt accepted by and comfortable with everyone there. I am new to ReCoCo but I’d say that is part of the culture and atmosphere the college fosters.

The session covered a wide range of topics including:

  • Different types of self-harm.
  • Who self-harms and what leads to them doing so.
  • How does it feel to self-harm?
  • Signs to look out for in others.
  • Coping techniques, treatment, and self-help.
  • How to support someone.
  • The self-harm first aid kit.

Steve shared his personal journey, much of which was new to me. Those who know me and Fran know we have a “no pedestals” policy, meaning as far as possible we treat ourselves and others without elevating anyone to hero status. That said, I was deeply moved by Steve’s story and respect him immensely for the honesty with which he lives his life. It takes courage to turn a lifetime of hard experience to the service of others.

I have no equivalent first-hand experience. I took the class to learn more about a subject which affects so many, including some of my closest friends.

It wasn’t all easy to hear and engage with. Given the topic, it couldn’t be. Self-harm is about as real as it gets and Steve held little if anything back. That is what the subject deserves, as do all those whose lives are affected by it, directly or indirectly. He took time to check in with everyone from time to time in case we were struggling, and there was a short break which was very welcome.

At the end of the session Steve asked what we each had planned for the rest of the day. This is something I recognise from other courses I’ve attended, including Mental Health First Aid. It is a valuable reminder to pay attention to self-care after doing something challenging. With that in mind I’d arranged to meet up with a friend for lunch which proved the perfect opportunity to unwind.

Two and a half hours can only provide an introduction to a subject as deep and complex as self-harm. I certainly do not now consider myself an expert. That said, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding what self-harm is, what it isn’t, and how you can help yourself and others. It more than lived up to the course description.

I would like to thank Steve, ReCoCo, and the other students who attended with me. I feel better prepared and informed to support my friends and others. The rest is up to me.

For more information about Newcastle Recovery College and their courses check their website.

 

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