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Any kind of pain or injury inflicted by an individual on him or herself. This commonly includes cutting, burning or hitting oneself as well as many other forms, often less obvious such as staying in an abusive relationship or simply not taking care of oneself - perhaps not washing or eating. It is usually a way of expressing emotion or pain that the harmer cannot express in any other way. There are a lot of reasons why a person self harms and it is different for everyone.
Self harm can also be a way of trying to do the least possible amount of damage when someone is feeling suicidal. It can help with suicidal feelings and help a person to cope with their feelings. It is not a failed suicide attempt, nor is it attention seeking, nor masochism, it is not manipulation and it is not an easy way out. Self harmers need as much help as anyone else who is affected by an illness and should not be judged as any of those things because their injuries are self inflicted.
A very good resource for understanding self harm is located on the Mind website.
Anyone, of any age or gender. There are a lot of stereotypes around self harm which say that self harmers are 'all girls', or 'all teenagers', or all belong to certain groups of people or sections of society. These are all inaccurate. Anyone can be a self harmer, anyone can be affected by these problems.
Help for self harm varies from person to person and from doctor to doctor. The most important thing is to tell someone about it. There are a number of anonymous helplines and online message boards where you can discuss your feelings with people who have been through similar things. Many of these can be found on the NSHN (National Self Harm Network) as part of their resources, and the NSHN itself offers an excellent and well moderated forum community for self harmers. You can also call the Samaritans if you want to talk anonymously. However, if possible, it is usually better to speak to someone in your life, perhaps a friend or parent, or if you can, a doctor or counsellor.
If you speak to your doctor, remember that this is not an easy thing to do. Try writing down what you want to say before you go, as it can help you to organise your thoughts, or, if it is easier, you can show your doctor what you have written. You will not be obliged to commit to anything that you're uncomfortable with and no one will judge you. Some further tips for talking to someone can be found in the links at the bottom of this leaflet. Try to be as honest as possible with your doctor. You may be offered counselling or medication. Self help options include talking to people, and distractions such as drawing on yourself with a red pen, flicking an elastic band against the skin, or holding an ice cube, and many other options, a lot of which can be found in this discussion on the NSHN forum. Do not feel bad if these do not work as what is effective is different for everyone.
Dealing with self harm does not necessarily mean stopping. Self harm is a way of coping and often it is better to get help with the issues behind the self harm before you try to stop. If you continue to harm, you must take care of yourself. It can be difficult and it can seem contradictory but it is important to take appropriate care of any injuries and seek medical attention if necessary.
If you do want to stop self harming, it's important that you have some kind of help. It's a very difficult thing to stop alone, as self harm is often a very important coping strategy, and if it is taken away it can be very hard to manage.
It can be very difficult to find out that someone you know is self harming. If you want to help the person, the best thing is usually to talk to them about it. Ask them how they are feeling, what they are going through and how you can help. You can help them to see their doctor or a counsellor, or direct them towards a self help group, either online or in real life. Try to understand what they are going through as much as you can, and again, remember that you need to take care of yourself too. Some good tips for helping a person through self harm can be found on the Befrienders Worldwide website.
Many resources can be found on the internet for self harm help. However, be careful when searching when you are feeling vulnerable, as many websites can be triggering. If you can, have someone with you.
National Self Harm Network: http://www.nshn.co.uk
Befrienders Worldwide: http://www.befrienders.org/support/index.asp?PageURL=selfHarm.php
The Site provides an online information and support centre for all 16 to 25-year-olds affected by self-harm, with articles, videos, podcasts, moderated chats, discussion boards, and an expert question and answer service: http://www.thesite.org/selfharm
An excellent list of resources for a whole range of issues is located in this discussion on the NSHN forum
The Depression Alliance: http://www.depressionalliance.org/docs/help/working_with_your_gp.html
The Depression Place: http://www.depressionplace.com/depression_help.html
The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/your_emotional_health/feeling_low.aspx
The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/
National Self Harm Network: http://www.nshn.co.uk/forum/index.php
Recover Your Life: http://www.recoveryourlife.com