Self Harm, or self injury as it is sometimes known, is a behaviour in which somebody deliberately sets out to hurt or injure themselves as a way of coping with intensely distressing feelings.
People can harm themselves in lots of different ways. Most commonly this involves cutting or burning themselves, however some people may deliberately harm themselves in less obvious ways like regularly drinking to excess or taking dangerous risks with their health.
People self harm for lots of reasons. This will be unique and individual for each person, the common feature when someone self harms is that they are trying to cope with overwhelming emotional pain. Sometimes, but not always, someone who self harms has experienced negative life experiences or relationships which have deeply hurt them.
Our biology plays a role in self harm too. When somebody self harms the brain produces endorphins which can cause an adrenaline rush. In a similar pattern as drug addiction, overtime the feeling of the adrenaline lessens so more serious harm is required to get the same effect.
Sometimes people may say that their self harm gives them a sense of control over their own body, when everything else in their life feels chaotic and unmanageable.
A lot of people think that someone who self harms is seeking attention. It is more realistic to say that the individual needs somebody to be aware and take notice that something is causing them hurt and pain. Self harm can be used as a means of communicating distress when somebody is not able to express themselves using words. It can be a way of saying “I’m not ok” or “I need someone to take notice and help me”.
Supporting someone who self harms
- Ask them how they are feeling
- See the person behind the self harm
- Be compassionate
- Put aside your own prejudices about self harm
- Consider how your reaction will affect them
- Help them to receive help for their injuries if needed
- Ask them what you can do to support them best
- Think about your own feelings – take care of yourself and seek support if you need to
- Be judgemental
- Make them feel guilty
- Withhold attention
- Tell them they have to stop – not everyone wants to or is ready to stop self harming. What can be more important is for the person to learn how to self harm more safely using harm reduction methods.
- Promise secrecy – you may need to tell someone else to get them help
- Give them ultimatums to try to force them stop
I want to learn more about Self Harm….
You can find out more from this NHS booklet on self harm. Self Harm Awareness Training is offered several times a year. A shorter awareness raising session can be arranged for staff groups on request. Find out more here.
It's worth also checking out our support sources below for more information and where to access support.
If you are a young person wanting to find out more about self harm please click here.
They provide an online support via email but they also have interesting factsheets available to download.
Call: 0845 790 9090 Offers a 24 hour confidential, emotional support to anyone who is suicidal or despairing. Email: email@example.com
Self harm UK
Support for young people but has good information on self harm to help understanding.
British Red Cross
Find advice and information on basic first aid skills.
Online resources including factsheets and an online community forum.
Helpline - 0845 767 8000 Offers information, crisis care and emotional support
Breathing Space Scotland
Helpline - 0800 838 587 Free and confidential helpline.
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