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. Over half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm. However, the intention is more often to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension. Sometimes the reason is a mixture of both.
Self-harm can also be a cry for help.
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. There are also people in school who you can talk to. See the BST or pastoral staff, Mrs Wilson or a member of the Leadership team. School can put you in contact with the school nurse and other agencies that will advise and support.
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. These include:
· Mind – call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 (9am-6pm on weekdays)
· YoungMinds Parents Helpline – call 0808 802 5544 (9.30-4pm on weekdays)
Types of self-harm
There are many different ways people can intentionally harm themselves, such as:
- cutting or burning their skin
- punching or hitting themselves
- poisoning themselves with tablets or toxic chemicals
- misusing alcohol or drugs
- deliberately starving themselves (anorexia nervosa) or binge eating (bulimia nervosa)
- excessively exercising
People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame or fear of discovery. For example, if they're cutting themselves, they may cover up their skin and avoid discussing the problem. It's often up to close family and friends to notice when somebody is self-harming, and to approach the subject with care and understanding.
Signs of self-harm
If you think a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs:
- unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest
- keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
- signs of depression, such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything
- self-loathing and expressing a wish to punish themselves
- not wanting to go on and wishing to end it all
- becoming very withdrawn and not speaking to others
- changes in eating habits or being secretive about eating, and any unusual weight loss or weight gain
- signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they're not good enough for something
- signs they have been pulling out their hair
- signs of alcohol or drugs misuse
People who self-harm can seriously hurt themselves, so it's important that they speak to a GP or an adult about the underlying issue and request treatment or therapy that could help them.