Self-harm describes any way in which someone might hurt themselves or put themselves at risk in response to, or in order to manage, overwhelming thoughts, feelings or experiences. Self-harm is not a mental illness and for many people it is a way of coping with the stresses of daily life, for others it is a way of managing the thoughts and feelings caused by, or underlying, other conditions such as depression and anxiety.
People self-harm for a variety of different reasons; for some people it’s a temporary means of coping with a situation, whilst for others it becomes a longer term coping mechanism. What people who self-harm tend to have in common is that they are trying to cope with overwhelming thoughts and feelings and have not yet learnt a healthier way of coping that works consistently and effectively.
Self-harm can be a very isolating and secretive activity which some people feel ashamed of or embarrassed about, or they may be worried that they’ll be teased, bullied or accused of attention seeking. This can cause people who self-harm to become increasingly isolated. People with self-harm injuries or scars will often try to keep them hidden, wearing long sleeves even in warm weather and avoiding situations where other people might see their injuries such as PE, sleepovers or shopping trips.
People who self-harm often feel stuck and like there is no other way to manage how they’re feeling, but in fact there is very effective support and treatment available if you can find the courage to seek support. The most common treatments for self-harm are talking therapies or support groups. In recovery, people who self-harm will often focus a lot on learning when and why they self-harm and finding ways to avoid the urge to self-harm, distract from the need to self-harm or learn to manage and respond to difficult feelings in healthier ways.
Two types of talking therapy that are found to help people who self-harm are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helps sufferers to identify and change negative thoughts and feelings affecting their behaviour and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) which can help sufferers to feel more aware of their emotions and accepting of themselves.
The first step to overcoming self-harm is to talk to somebody. Open up to a friend or a trusted adult. Your GP, teacher or youth worker are people who will be able to help you identify and access the best means of support.