Self-harm - About
This section gives information on:
What is self-harm?
Self-harm means that you harm yourself on purpose. Self-harm isn’t a mental health problem but it is often linked to mental distress. It is common to self-harm in secret. You may do this because you feel as though your thoughts and feelings are not acceptable to other people.
Self-harm can be both distressing for you and your loved ones. This is because they may not be able to understand why you self-harm.
People self-harm in different ways such as the following:
- Scalding with hot water
- Banging or scratching your body
- Sticking sharp objects into your body
- Eating or drinking things that are poisonous
- Not letting wounds heal
- Take too many tablets, known as an ‘overdose’
- Misusing prescribed or illegal drugs or alcohol
- Over exercising
- Starving yourself
You are more likely to self-harm if you take illegal drugs or drink too much alcohol.
Self-harm is more common in young people with depression and anxiety. But is does affect adults without a mental health problem too.
You are more likely to self-harm if you:
- have a mental health issue such as:
- a substance abuse issue,
- borderline personality disorder, or
- an eating disorder,
- are female,
- are a young person,
- are in prison,
- are an asylum seeker,
- are a veteran of the armed forces,
- are gay, lesbian or bisexual,
- have lost a loved one through suicide, or
- are a survivor of physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a child.
Do people self-harm more than once?
People self-harm to deal with distress. You may self-harm several times a year or several times a day.
Self-harm can become a normal way of dealing with life’s difficulties because of the temporary relief self-harm brings. It could be likened to being in a dentist’s chair. Some people may dig their finger nail into their thumb to distract themselves from physical pain or fear. But this is a one off event. They will stop when the dentist steps away from them.
How can I tell someone I self-harm?
You might feel that you are the only one who self-harms. You might feel like people close to you won’t understand.
Sharing your experiences can help with your recovery. You don’t have to tell someone in person, it might be easier to write it in a letter.
Below are some things to think about when you are going to tell someone.
Who do I tell?
Decide who you want to tell first. Choose someone you feel comfortable with. Talking to someone else can help you figure out how you feel about it and if you want to tell others. This maybe someone close to you. Or you may prefer to speak with your GP or a self-harm emotional support line.
You may feel frightened to talk to certain people about self-harm. Friends and family may be able to support you to have this conversation.
What do I tell them?
Think about what you are going to say before you begin your conversation. It can help if you know what you want to say and how you want to say it. You could say it out loud once or twice to hear how it sounds.
Whoever you tell is likely to ask you questions. Think about the questions they may ask and your answers. Remember that you only have to tell them information that you are happy for them to know.
When do I say it?
Try to find the right time to tell someone. Make sure they aren’t distracted with something else. Make sure you are not upset or angry. Even something as simple as being hungry or tired can make it hard to focus and deal with information. Choose a time that suits you both.
Where do I tell them?
Think about where you are going to tell them. You may want this to be a private place so that others can’t overhear. Pick a place where you feel safe and are both comfortable.
Why am I telling them?
Don’t assume they understand why you’re telling them. Let them know. You might tell them because:
- you want to share yourself,
- you might feel that you have given them the wrong impression about how you feel or why you self-harm, or
- you want support to stop self-harming.
What do I do if they struggle to understand?
They may struggle to understand. Even professionals may struggle to understand. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t care or want to help you.
Be patient with them and do your best to answer their questions to help them to understand what is going on.
For people with an underlying emotional issue it is not so straight forward. Self-harm is only temporary relief because the underlying issue is still there.
The earlier you get help, the easier it will be to learn other ways of coping. And work towards recovery. People who have self-harmed for many years can find it difficult to stop and it takes a lot of work.
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Contact our Advice team about mental health & related issues
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