Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.
Sometimes when people self-harm, they feel on some level that they intend to die. More than half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm.
But the intention is more often to punish themselves, express their distress, or relieve unbearable tension. Sometimes it’s a mixture of all three.
Self-harm can also be a cry for help.
WHY PEOPLE SELF-HARM
Self-harm is more common than many people realise, especially among younger people. It’s estimated around 10% of young people self-harm at some point, but people of all ages do.
This figure is also likely to be an underestimate, as not everyone seeks help.
In most cases, people who self-harm do it to help them cope with overwhelming emotional issues, which may be caused by:
• social problems – such as being bullied, having difficulties at work or school, having difficult relationships with friends or family, coming to terms with their sexuality if they think they might be gay or bisexual, or coping with cultural expectations, such as an arranged marriage
• psychological causes – such as having repeated thoughts or voices telling them to self-harm, disassociating (losing touch with who they are and with their surroundings), or borderline personality disorder
These issues can lead to a build-up of intense feelings of anger, guilt, hopelessness and self-hatred.
The person may not know who to turn to for help and self-harming may become a way to release these pent-up feelings.
Self-harm can also occur alongside antisocial behaviour, such as misbehaving at school or getting into trouble with the police.
Although some people who self-harm are at a high risk of suicide, many people who self-harm don’t want to end their lives.
In fact, the self-harm may help them cope with emotional distress so they don’t feel the need to kill themselves.
If you’re self-harming, you should see your GP for help. They can refer you to healthcare professionals at a local community mental health service for further assessment.
This assessment will result in your care team working out a treatment plan with you to help with your distress.
Treatment for people who self-harm usually involves seeing a therapist to discuss your thoughts and feelings, and how these affect your behaviour and wellbeing.
They can also teach you coping strategies to help prevent further episodes of self-harm.
If you’re badly depressed, it could also involve taking antidepressants or other medication.
There are organisations that offer support and advice for people who self-harm, as well as their friends and families.
• City and Hackney 24 Hour Mental Health Crisis Helpline 02 08 432 80 20
• Derman, Hackney-based charity for the wellbeing of the Kurdish and Turkish communities, accept referrals in writing, a letter or completing referral form, from GPs, other Primary Health Care professionals, Locality Mental Health Teams and other voluntary sector organisations or health professionals. Download the Counselling Referral Form Return the completed form by email to: email@example.com
• Mind – call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 (9am to 6pm on weekdays)
• YoungMinds Parents Helpline – call 0808 802 5544 (9.30am to 4pm on weekdays)