Why It Doesn’t Matter If “She’s Doing It For The Attention”

By Lindsey Peters, Regular ContributorDecember 4, 2015


image via theodysseyonline.com

From grade school throughout college I heard it way too often, usually paired with an over-dramatic eye roll: “She’s just doing it for the attention.”

It could be a response to almost any adolescent or young adult cry for help – cutting, burning, excessive drinking, or suicidal threats. According to Healthyplace.com, 1 in 5 women engage in self-injurious behavior, and 90% of those women begin doing so as a teenager. This is a huge amount of girls, making it no surprise that rumors of self-harm and suicidal threats run rampant throughout gossipy school hallways.

Hearing that someone you know purposefully hurts herself or wants to kill herself is really scary. I think that’s why it can be so easy to dismiss – if we tell ourselves that she is just saying this for attention, we don’t have to worry about the horrible possibility that she might actually kill herself. It’s just for attention, we think. She wouldn’t actually do that.

And here’s the truth: Yes, she IS doing it for attention. She desperately needs attention. And we need to give it to her.

I think a lot about mental illness and how it compares to physical illness. If someone complains that they have a migraine, she’ll be met with an outpouring of support. “That’s so horrible!” friends will say. “Can I get you a water? An Advil? Here, let me dim the lights for you.” Someone who explains that she cuts herself or is thinking of killing herself isn’t always as lucky. Her friends might wonder if she’s doing it for attention, her mom might worry that she is being manipulative, and a lot of people might pretend that she never even said anything because they are so unsure of how to respond to such a scary statement.

As girls who support other girls, we need to stop thinking of attention-seeking as an absolutely, no-questions-asked negative behavior. When a girl makes an intense statement like this, we need to fight our old way of thinking – the thinking that tells us that she isn’t serious and that we should change the subject – and make the choice to give her the attention she is looking for. She is going through something that’s hurting her. She wants someone to listen to her.

A lot of people are afraid that talking to their friend about suicide will only make things worse. This isn’t true. If your friend is thinking about hurting herself, it actually helps to talk about it, because it lets her feel heard and it allows you to learn more about why she is feeling this way .

When you hear that someone is thinking of hurting herself, listen to her without judgment and she will feel understood. Encourage her to get help. You could even offer to go with her to a school counselor or a mental health professional. Help her get the positive attention that she so desperately deserves.

If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please get help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit their website to chat online with someone who can help: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

To learn more, visit these sites for more information.

Kevin Caruso, Suicide Myths, http://www.suicide.org/suicide-myths.html 

Samantha Gluck, Self Injury, Self Harm Statistics and Facts, 2012, http://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/self-injury/self-injury-self-harm-statistics-and-facts/

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About Lindsey

LINDSAY_PETERS_writer_bio_(1).jpgLindsey Peters is a Chicago-born girl living in sunny Los Angeles. She has a Masters degree in Social Work and is passionate about mental health advocacy, personal growth, self-care, and getting as much sleep as is humanly possible. Check out her blog dedicated to mental and emotional health at morningwellness.wordpress.com.


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  • commented 2015-12-12 11:03:44 -0800
    Thanks, @kitty ;) You’re so right that support from family and friends is crucial, which can be difficult if a girl’s friends and family haven’t experienced mental illness themselves. I think that’s why it’s so important to be open to hearing others’ experiences with a nonjudgmental attitude. Thank you for your awesomely compassionate response to this article!
  • commented 2015-12-05 19:44:59 -0800
    Thank you for this post! By likening mental illness to physical illness you give it the respect it deserves. Many people still don’t understand that an individual that is afflicted, if even for a time, with mental illness does not always have the clarity to ask for help in the traditional way. Thank you for increasing awareness! Many lives depend on a family member, friend or loved one to respond the way you have written!
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