Self Harm Awareness Day – Ellie’s story

Self Harm Awareness Day – Ellie’s story

28 February 2024

Ellie is an articulate, intelligent, self-possessed woman of 28. She’s kind, caring, highly sensitive and insightful. At the moment she is studying at college, with a view to becoming a counsellor in the future. She gives to the community by volunteering with MindSpace and has helped out at a local kids’ activity group for the last few years. She lives with her parents and sibling and is thinking about one day sharing a house with her sister.  She has plans and hopes for the future.

But Ellie’s life hasn’t always been like this. Her mental health struggles started around the age of 12, triggered by no one particular incident but by a combination of circumstances, as is so often the case with sudden mental health decline. Ellie cites low self-esteem as a major contributory factor and combined with trauma, a highly sensitive nature and friendship difficulties at school, she turned to self-harm as a way of trying to cope with the pain she felt.

Looking back now, she realises that not only did it never solve the issues she faced but it became an ever-worsening cycle.

“Self-harm ruined my life. It was my go-to coping mechanism for nearly 15 years and although it relieved how I felt temporarily, it never solved any problems long-term, and I was trapped in a soul-sucking, all-consuming cycle.”

Ellie’s school counsellor soon realised that she needed more help than school could offer and she was referred the CAMHS at the age of 13.  By age 17, the severity and regularity of episodes had increased, and when she was transferred to Adult Mental Health Services she was diagnosed with EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) and spent a year in a DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) unit. Ellie views this time as ‘helpful, but it was really just a sticking plaster’ covering up her by now deep-rooted issues. 

When she left the unit, there was a brief ‘honeymoon’ period where she felt good. However, Ellie quickly sank back into her old ways of ‘coping’ and found herself in A&E several times a week.  For next three to four years, Ellie felt stuck, unable to move, feeling too unstable to get a job and too fragile to put herself out there into the world.

A real turning point came for Ellie was when she began to work with her community psychiatric nurse (CPN) who Ellie describes as her ‘cheerleader’. She helped Ellie to realise that she needed to take some baby steps to move out of the small, self-destructive world she inhabited. By tiny increments, Ellie began to broaden her world, starting with helping out at a local Brownies group. Five years later, Ellie is still volunteering her time in this role, and loves the time she spends with the children, recognising how much it has contributed to improving her self-esteem, and she says that she hopes one day to have children of her own.

“For years, self harm urges plagued my mind but now, I have space for other thoughts in my head. I’m working towards goals I wouldn’t have been able to achieve if I was stuck in the cycle of self-destruction.”

The CPN also encouraged Ellie to work with an occupational therapist to think about what she wanted to do in the future. Up until then, Ellie had held the rigid view that if she couldn’t pursue the path of being a clinical psychologist, she might as well not be here. Encouraged by her CPN and OT, in 2020 Ellie applied for a college Access course. and during this time her confidence began to grow. She began to accept that there might be other paths open to her, and became interested in becoming a counsellor.

At this time, Ellie had also begun her own research into other options for medication.  She had been on anti-depressants for a number of years but had read a lot about the benefits of mood stablisers for recurrent depression and chronic suicidal thoughts. She convinced her CPN to advocate on her behalf to her psychiatrist, and was glad she did. The new medication suited her much better, and combined with her increased confidence and her hope for the future, Ellie’s urges to self-harm lessened. 

When her CPN left her post, whereas once this would have a huge setback for her, Ellie surprised herself with her own resilience, recognising that she now had the tools to cope on her own.

Ellie is now one year free from the destructive cycle she spent her teens and early twenties locked into and her motivation for keeping going is her own future.  She is keen to access therapy to address some of her underlying difficulties such as her rigid, negative beliefs about herself, and now she has been discharged from Adult Mental Health Services – something she views positively – she is planning on paying for private therapy.

“If I don’t change… nothing will change. It’s hard work at times and I still have difficult days, but I can honestly say that it feels amazing to be reclaiming my life and work towards fully closing the door on that chapter.”

Through it all, Ellie’s family have been there for her. As difficult as it was for her parents to understand back in 2008, when there was so much less awareness of the issues she faced, they have been her rock and her stability through the depression that plagued her younger years.

MindSpace came along for Ellie at the right time in her recovery.  Her social prescriber told her about it and encouraged her to go along to a session, and Ellie did, felt she fitted in and wanted to volunteer.  The group she helps out at had long been looking for someone exactly like her – someone sensitive to others, kind and intuitive, with an empathic nature. For her part, Ellie enjoys feeling like she’s made a difference to someone’s day and has a sense of purpose. She’s built up good relationships and understanding of others in the group, and she wants the best for these people, and cares about what happens to them.

“I just wish I could go back and tell younger me that the light at the end of the tunnel that everyone talks about really is there.”

Ellie is a different person now and has new coping mechanisms for stressful times.  Her priority when she is struggling is to talk to someone. She recognises the importance of being open and honest with her loved ones when she’s had a bad day, taking the lid off the pressure cooker of her emotions this way.

With her new confidence has come a real determination to stay on the path she has chosen for herself. Whenever she feels the old negative urges starting – because she still has them occasionally, although they are increasingly much less frequent and less severe – her focus on her future is too strong to let her go down that road again. 

For more information on Self Harm Awareness Day or on the issues raised in this article, visit