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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

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Self-Injury: One Family's Story

A mother and daughter tell their story about self-harm and how they finally got the strength to get help.

Getting Treatment

Dawn spent a week as an inpatient at SAFE Alternatives, located in Naperville, Ill. The program provides both inpatient and outpatient treatment for self-injurers. For the rest of her junior year, she was treated on an outpatient basis - taking high school classes at the hospital, while also getting counseling. A van picked her up at home in the morning and brought her home at night.

For her senior year, Dawn went back to her old high school. "That was major," Deb says. "Through the gossip trail, people knew. It was very hard for her to face, but she did it. She graduated with her class. She did very well."

Deb has seen big changes in her daughter. What's helped most, Dawn says, is learning to understand why she was injuring herself. "Now that I can, like, identify what makes me want to do it, it makes it easier to do other things and not do it. I can see the warning signs, like when I start to isolate myself, so I can stop the cycle before it starts."

Deb and her daughter have had many heart-to-heart talks. "I've told her, 'You shouldn't be embarrassed, you should be proud -- proud for all you've been through. You're a tremendous human being. You should view yourself from afar, give yourself a lot of credit for that instead of beating yourself up.'"

Facing a Relapse

Recently, Dawn began cutting again, this time on her legs. "It was easy to cover them with jeans," she says.

But it was Dawn who called the SAFE program for help, not her mother. "I think it was harder for her this time," says Deb. "I told her, 'You need to be very proud that you could reach out. You need to see you're destined for great things. God does not bring us through these things for nothing. You need to see the other side of that circle, to see how strong you are.'"

That crisis has passed. In May, Dawn graduated from college with a major in psychology and a minor in art. She now works for an area agency that helps the mentally handicapped and disabled. She wants to pursue a master's in psychology, so she can be an art therapist. "Dawn found that art therapy helped her a lot with her own problems," Deb says.

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