‘If you’re thinking this might be the solution, it isn’t’ – Southwold mental health activist Sarah Barrett launches hard-hitting campaign to discourage self-harm
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Hidden underneath her clothing, Sarah Barrett has for many years borne the scars of a dark and troubling secret.
Having lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after surviving childhood sexual abuse, she regrettably could only think of one way to cope.
Struggling to deal with what happened, she tried – unsuccessfully – to find solace in self-harm.
It didn't work and is something she has regretted for the rest of her life, not least because it left her with terrible lasting injuries and put her life in danger.
But today, the City College Norwich student is bravely talking about how her mental health problems led her to self-harm – in the hope she can persuade others not to make the same choice.
For Sarah, it began after she told a classmate at secondary school about how she had been abused when she was aged nine. Her peers did not believe her and bullied her as a result.
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Although she also disclosed what happened to police and family – who were both supportive – the reaction of others made the problems worse. Unfortunately, she also took many overdoses.
'I felt like I had nothing to live for,' she said.
She also began to experience dissociative features, where the body feels as though it is disconnected from the mind.
Many of her overdoses and incidents of self-harm took place during her dissociative episodes, when she was not conscious of her actions.
It was only after several overdose attempts that Sarah was eventually hospitalised, at her own request.
Since then, she has continued to face challenges – not least by being hospitalised in Southampton, 206 miles away from her home, as that was the closest bed available at the time.
The Southwold resident admits to still having bad days and weeks, and says that she has self-harmed since coming out of hospital in 2014 in her darkest moments.
But Sarah is very much in recovery – and won last year's overall EDP Star of Norfolk and Waveney Award for her campaign to, in her own words, 'fight the stigma' of mental health.
After winning that accolade she was given a £1,000 grant through Suffolk-based charity GeeWizz, which helps people living with disabilities.
True to her style, she decided use the money to tackle one of the biggest taboo subjects in mental health.
'There is a lot of misunderstanding about self-harm and why people do it,' she explained.
'I don't want to encourage people to do it, but it is regrettably a coping strategy for people dealing with the most dreadful psychological issues.
'It's a painful distraction. There's a pressure to get rid of those feelings by doing something overwhelming. When you start, it is incredibly difficult to stop.
'If someone is in the early stages of self-harm, it is important to be aware of where this painful, addictive behaviour could take you.'
On Sunday, July 23, starting at 1pm at All Saints Road car park in Pakefield, Sarah has organised the 'Warrior Walk' along the seafront as part of the Lowestoft Summer Festival.
The 19-year-old is hoping to attract corporate sponsors raise money for her campaign.
'The Warrior Walk is an event for everyone who wants to fight the stigma of mental health but particularly those of us who battle self-harm,' she explained.
'I thought it would be fantastic for one day to be able to wear a short-sleeve top or shorts and walk next to the beach in the company of other people, in safety and surrounded by support.
'Anyone can join the Warrior Walk. You can bare your scars or not at all. Carers, supporters, those living with a mental health condition – anyone.
'The earlier people can get support, literally the less damage they are going to do to themselves.
'If you have self-harmed or are self-harming, support is available for you to help you stop – and you should be seeking it.
'If you're thinking this might be the solution, it isn't.'
To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/fts-the-warrior-walk