Self Harm

What is Self Harm?

The UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, at 400 per 100,000 population. 

Self-harm involves intentional direct injury or mutilation to the body, often done without suicidal intent.

The most common forms of self-harm include cutting, hitting, burning, head banging, bruising, choking, bone breaking, scratching, overdosing on prescription medications and interfering with wound healing.

Often the intention of self-harm is to punish, express distress or relieve unbearable tension. It can also be a cry for help. Self-harm is not the same as being suicidal; people who self-harm might not have suicidal thoughts. However there is a strong link between self-harm and suicide as those who self-harm are 100 times more likely to commit suicide on purpose or accidentally.

Despite the common belief that self-harm is an attention-seeking behaviour; this is usually an inaccurate or insufficient explanation.  Most people who self-harm are self-conscious about their wounds and scars and will injure themselves in places that can be hidden easily by clothing.

Why do People Self-Harm?

There are many reasons that people self-harm. Ultimately it is a coping mechanism and provides a temporary release or relief for whatever emotional or psychological problem the person may be experiencing.

Self-harm may be used to fulfill a number of different functions:

  • As a coping mechanism to deal with other problems, offering distraction, a chance to exert control over the body, and a way of releasing and expressing emotions.
  • As a strategy to feel calm when they feel overwhelmed, helping the individual to focus, slow their emotions down and regain control of a situation. For others it is part of a ritual that helps them feel safe.
  • To help bury thoughts or feelings, flashbacks or nightmares, numbing the emotions. Others see it as a form of punishment to deal with feelings of shame and guilt.
  • To cope with long-term or short-term psychological factors. For example, suffering abuse (whether it be in childhood or later relationships), can often result in suppressed emotions, for which self-harm can be regarded as a release. Short-term psychological issues may include a recent bereavement, a relationship breakdown, or social factors including unemployment and poverty.
  • As a result of the misuse of drugs and alcohol – this can alter an individuals state of mind and judgment, and provide another form of release to help deal with their addiction.

Self harm has also been associated with other psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders (especially borderline personality disorder), a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, substance abuse, and relationship difficulties with peers and family.

So, although the motivations to self-harm can be varied, it is commonly thought that self-harm represents an unhelpful emotion regulation strategy for managing intense unpleasant emotions.

How Common is Self Harm?

The statistics for self-harm are likely to be under reported as many acts of self harm do not come to the attention of medical services. Anyone can self-harm at any time of his or her life but it is most common in the following groups:

  • Adolescents aged between 12 and 24 years old; self-harm can occur in both sexes, although females engage in more frequent self-harm behaviours than males.
  • Young South Asian females in the UK appear to have a raised risk of self harm (it is thought that intercultural stresses and consequent family conflicts may be relevant factors)
  • Prisoners, asylum seekers, and veterans of the armed forces
  • Gay, lesbian and bisexual males and females (this seems, at least in part, due to the stress of prejudice and discrimination)
  • Those who have friends that also self-harm
  • People who have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood
  • It can also be linked to mental health difficulties such as
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating Disorders
  • Psychosis
  • OCD or Personality Disorders

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are concerned that you (or someone you are with) have seriously harmed yourself, for example,

  • you (or someone else) have taken an overdose of drugs, alcohol or prescription medication
  • somebody is unconscious
  • you (or someone else) are in a lot of pain
  • you (or someone else) are having difficulty breathing
  • you (or someone else) are losing a lot of blood from a cut or wound
  • you (or someone else) are in shock after a serious cut or burn 

It is recommended that you call 999 for an ambulance or take yourself to the Accident and Emergency Department at your nearest hospital.

How Talking to Siobhan Can Help

As part of an idiosyncratic treatment plan, Siobhan will help you:

  • Explore the possible causes and triggers for your self harming behaviour
  • Learn healthy coping skills to deal with the difficult emotions preceding an act of self-harm
  • Understand, confront and change the thoughts and beliefs that drive and contribute to your self harming behaviour

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