Self-harm describes a wide range of behaviours that people do to themselves in a deliberate and usually hidden way. In the vast majority of cases self-harm remains a secretive behaviour that can go on for a long time without others being aware it is a problem.

Self-harm can involve:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Scalding
  • Hitting or scratching
  • Breaking bones
  • Hair pulling
  • Swallowing toxic substances or objects

Self-harm is often a symptom of underlying and unresolved mental distress or a way of communicating emotional distress for which the person has not yet found words. For some people self-harm helps to relieve and regulate distressing feelings and helps them cope with problems in their lives. It is rarely about trying to end their life and in some instances can be a way of actually feeling alive.

However, if left unattended self-harming behaviours can escalate the risk of suicide or death through miss-adventure. A wide range of contributing factors may be involved. Very often there are multiple triggers, early developmental traumas or daily stresses, rather than one significant change or event. Factors can include:

  • Feeling isolated
  • Academic/work pressures
  • Suicide or self-harm by someone close to you
  • Family problems, including parental separation or divorce
  • Being bullied
  • Low self-esteem.

Finding ways to distract from, or alternatives to regulate distressing feelings, including talking about them, can reduce the intensity and frequency of self-harm. Other techniques that are reported as being effective include using a red pen to mark rather than cutting, rubbing with ice, hitting a punch bag or flicking elastic bands on the wrist.

For some believing that they are the only one that has self-harmed can be a key contributing factor which increases social isolation and intensifies feelings of shame and low self-worth. More accurate information for young people, parents and teachers can increase awareness and understanding to mitigate risk and help people seek and source support. For further help on the topic of Self-Harm please consult your GP.