Self-harm is commonly considered a physical response to a type of emotional pain.
It can be used as a method to cope with difficult feelings, distressing situations or overwhelming experiences. It can also be a way of feeling able to control discomfort or relieve tension.
There are many ways a person can self-harm, which can include common forms such as self injury but also take other forms, such as abusing substances, self-punishment or deliberately neglecting one's needs. Self-harm can happen at any age, but is most common in people aged 11-25. Self-harm is not about attention seeking and is often done in private.
It can also be associated with any other mental health disorders, as a coping mechanism to deal with the associated overwhelming emotions. When helping someone who has self-harmed it can be more useful to explore how they are feeling, rather than what they have done to themselves.
Common Reasons People May Self-Harm
- Feeling isolated.
- Academic pressures.
- Family problems.
- Being bullied.
- Low self esteem.
- Money worries.
- Dealing with experiences of trauma.
“I genuinely feel that discrimination against mental health difficulties is improving.
“However, the stigma faced by people who self-harm is still high. I began self-harming when I was 16, following a traumatic event in my life. It was a coping mechanism, that, at the time, helped me to feel relief and comfort from emotions and feelings I couldn’t possibly process.
“It was hidden, and private. However as I relied more and more on that coping mechanism, the worse it became. I of course, had heard the way people talked. A simple search through the internet will tell you that people who self-harm only do it for attention. That they are a waste of medical resources, and shouldn’t be helped. That it’s something teenagers do because it’s popular. Therefore, at times where I needed help and treatment I became too ashamed to. I didn’t want people to judge me.
“Stigma stopped me getting help, and in reality it put me at risk. Whereas if people’s attitudes were different, I might have got help sooner.
“I have been to accident and emergency on a few occasions for my wounds, I have received kind and not as kind treatment. Some professionals, do treat you like a waste of time. Which when you are at your most vulnerable is difficult. You wish they knew how much it took you to build yourself up to getting help in the first place. That really you shouldn’t be treated any differently to the lady sitting next to you with the broken foot.
“I no longer self-harm, but that doesn’t mean I am free of judgement, the scars left on your body cause people to make assumptions about you. Therefore as best I can I still hide them. Maybe when stigma changes, that’ll change."
- Supportline: https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/self-injury-and-self-harm
- Mind UK: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-harm/about-self-harm
- NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/self-harm
- Rethink: https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/about-mental-illness/learn-more-about-symptoms/self-harm