Self-harm - medical information
Self-harm is not ‘just attention-seeking' - people self-harm because they are in pain and trying to cope.
They could also be trying to show that something is wrong. They need to be taken seriously.
Causes of self-harm
- Self-harm is a term used when someone injures or harms themselves on purpose rather than by accident.
- Common examples include `overdosing' (self-poisoning), hitting, cutting or burning oneself, pulling hair or picking skin, or self-strangulation.
- It can also include taking illegal drugs and excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Self-harm is always a sign of something being seriously wrong.
- Self-harm is a way of dealing with very difficult feelings that build up inside.
People say different things about why they do it
- Some say that they have been feeling desperate about a problem and don't know where to turn for help.
- They feel trapped and helpless. Self-injury helps them to feel more in control.
- Some people talk of feelings of anger or tension that get bottled up inside, until they feel like exploding.
- Self-injury helps to relieve the tension that they feel.
- Feelings of guilt or shame may also become unbearable.
- Self-harm is a way of punishing oneself.
- Some people try to cope with very upsetting experiences, such as trauma or abuse, by convincing themselves that the upsetting event(s) never happened.
- These people sometimes suffer from feelings of 'numbness' or 'deadness'.
- They say that they feel detached from the world and their bodies, and that self-injury is a way of feeling more connected and alive.
- A proportion of young people who self-harm do so because they feel so upset and overwhelmed by difficulties that they wish to end their lives by committing suicide.
- Often, the decision to attempt suicide is made quickly without thinking.
- At the time, many people just want their problems to disappear, and have no idea how to get help.
- They feel as if the only way out is to kill themselves.
Symptoms of self-harm
- Changes in behaviour that present as the young person being upset, withdrawn or irritable. Self-injury is often kept secret but there may be clues, such as refusing to wear short sleeves or to take off clothing for sports.
Treatments for self harm
- Encourage students to let you know if one of their friends is in trouble, upset, or shows signs of harming themselves.
- Friends often worry about betraying a confidence and you may need to explain that self-harm can endanger their lives.
- For this reason, it should never be kept secret.
Living with self-harm
An expert explains why young people may self-harm, and describes some of the different forms it can take.