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Self Harming

We can recognise Self-Harm as being when someone causes damages or injury to their body intentionally. Often when people Self-Harm they think and feel that at that time and on some level they may have wanted to die. More than 50% of people who commit suicide and die, have a repeated and determined past of Self-Harming. Sometimes, their intention is to just temporarily punish themselves, release anxiety and relieve the overbearing tension. However, their inner reason to Self-Harm can be both to punish themselves and relieve tension.

Usually, when someone performs Self-Harm, they are making a cry for help. The first step should be to go to see your GP (General Practitioner) and ask for help, but there may be a waiting list. Sometimes, the GP will send you to A and E (Accident and Emergency) or ask you to ring 111. Sometimes, the GP will call the Emergency Mental Health Team (often this is called the local Crisis Team. As your risk factor reduces you could be then seen and helped by an NHS therapist at a local AMHT (Adult Mental Health Team), or if under 18, seen at CAMHS (Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services).

Once you are seen (there may be a waiting list) by the relevant organisation, you will first be Triaged (assessed for risk factor, priority and approximate length of time on waiting list). If you are severely depressed, therapists or organisations can support you to learn practical coping tools, to help prevent further Self-Harm. Further, when you are severely depressed, taking antidepressants or other suitable medication can really help, in partnership with support and/or therapy. Often there is a very extended wait and you may be sign posted to any of the following:

  • Mind - call 118 115 or 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm on weekdays) or
  • Samaritans - call 116 123 (open 24 hours a day)
  • NSHN (National Self-Harm Network) UK forums - Chat room
  • Harmless - email:
  • Childline (if under 19) - call 0800 11 11
  • Young Minds Parents Helpline - call 0808 802 5544 (9.30-4pm on weekdays)

There are many types of Self-Harm as follows:

  • hitting or punching themselves
  • using chemicals or tablets to poison themselves
  • starving themselves (anorexia nervosa)
  • binge eating (bulimia nervosa)
  • using exercise to an excess
  • cutting or burning their skin
  • using alcohol
  • taking non-prescribed drugs
  • severe scratching or skin-picking till bleeding
  • severe pulling or hair, eyebrow or eyelashes (creating bald patches)

It can be very difficult for parents, teachers, family, partners or friends, to notice and be alerted to Self-Harm. There are two reasons for this, one is, that the sufferer is very clever and experienced at hiding the evidence (e.g. cutting thighs, cutting arms, hiding bald patches, by camouflaging with healthier hair, etc). The second reason why others do not suspect Self-Harm is the level of secrecy kept, due to extreme guilt, shame or fear of discovery. Even if someone, somehow notices, the person often has ready thought out excuses.

Ways that you know that a partner, relative, or friend is Self-Harming, is when:

  • they keep fully covered all the time, even in red-hot weather
  • odd or persistent expressions self-hate or by words or behaviour
  • not speaking to others or being withdrawn
  • not wanting to sit together to eat at mealtimes
  • depression re: unwilling to go out or join in any social events or activities
  • other depression signs such as: sleep problems, low motivation and energy etc.
  • observing someone persistently pulling at their hair, eyebrows, eyelashes
  • noticing a rearrangement or attempt to camouflage bald hair patches
  • seeing someone addictively picking at their skin or scratching until bleeding
  • observing very low self confidence (self-esteem), such as repeatedly blaming themselves for being or thinking they are 'not good enough' or 'not perfect'
  • looking out for extreme weight loss and/or taking food away from the table
  • noticing any sounds from the bathroom, e.g. making themselves sick or extended visits to the toilet (usually means, result of taking laxatives)
  • thoughts and feelings leading to voicing about 'not wanting to live anymore' or 'I want it all to end'
  • new or newly-noticed cigarette burns, cuts, bruises, marks, scabbing, bleeding etc.
  • addiction signs such as excess with alcohol, taking non-prescribed drugs or gambling

Most people do not realise how common Self-Harm is and how it has increased enormously in the last few years, especially by younger people. It is very alarming to discover that about 10% of young people Self-Harm sometimes, but so do older people also. Most therapists and clinicians think that this figure of 10% of young people, is likely to be a severe mis-calculation, as many sufferers do not seek help at anytime, by anyone. Usually, younger or older people who Self-Harm do it due to unmanageable and destructive emotional turmoil, anxiety, stress and depression, caused by:

  • Psychological reasons - hearing voices instructing them to Self-Harm, repeated inner thoughts and feelings of 'not good enough' or 'not perfect enough'. Disassociation (feeling out of touch with their surroundings and who they are, just like a dream), or BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), unpredictable roller-coaster levels of liking or hating self or others.
  • Social challenges - being bullied, or difficulties at school, college or work, relationship problems with family, partners or friends, gender or sexual orientation, unbearable cultural hurdles, such as arranged marriage, or finally, hiding the fact that they may be gay or bi-sexual.
  • Traumatic root-causes - emotional, sexual or physical abuse, having a miscarriage, traumatic accident, rape or attempted rape, other sexual assaults, death of a close family member or friend, with-holding financial control or stalking or tracking someone.

To summarise these challenges and issues of Self-Harm usually leads to a dramatic build-up of severe feelings of: self hate, guilt, anger and hopelessness (no point in anything). The child or adult often does not know where to get help, so it seems Self-Harm is the only available quick way to release these unbearable pent-up thoughts and feelings.

Self-Harm is always linked to anxiety, stress and/or depression. This mix of mental health disorders can affect sufferers of all ages. What may take most people by surprise is the latest new evidence that Self-Harm can also occur together with: disruptive behaviour at school or college, trouble with the police, repeated anti-social behaviour. Many sufferers who Self-Harm are at a severe risk of attempted suicide or suicide. However, some people who Self-Harm do not want to lose their lives and end it all. Often this negative risky behaviour does in fact help them deal with reduce and manage emotional feelings, until they can find more permanent beneficial and effective help, release and solutions.

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