So why do so many young people deliberately hurt themselves when most others try to avoid pain and injury?
Research has shown that the experiences most closely linked to self-harm in young people are mental health problems, family breakdown, being in care, and experiencing abuse.*
Selfharming can be difficult to understand and kept secret for fear of being judged. In general, girls are more likely to deal with their distress inwardly and may become withdrawn, anxious or depressed. They are more likely to develop eating disorders and more likely to self-harm.*
What does self-harm actually involve?
Cutting and bruising are the actions that generally come to mind but self-harm has many forms. It can also include severely restricting eating for no medical reason, deliberate deprivation of sleep, pulling out hair and many other presentations.
Whilst it can be difficult to understand the motivation to hurt oneself, for those who selfharm it can bring relief and an outlet for emotions that feel unbearable; it may seem dysfunctional but, for some, it feels like the safest and only coping strategy currently available.
How can we help someone who is self-harming?
Tackling the cause of the emotional pain and putting other, healthier, coping strategies in place can help to safely phase out the urge to self-harm. It is important that wounds are properly cared for and the person knows others are concerned about them and not judging them. The qualified counsellors at Fegans, a Christian charity, work in schools and local centres to help children and adolescents with a variety of issues including anger, depression and anxiety, which can contribute to selfharming behaviour.
Dinah Sheppard works as a counsellor in Fegans’ Tunbridge Wells centre and offers this advice:
“If you self-harm, or care for someone who does, it can be scary; talking to someone you trust will help. If you are the person someone chooses to speak to about this, accept it is something they feel the need to do at the moment, listen to them and give them time and space to talk.”
* Sourced from Royal College of Psychiatrists Mental Health and Growing Up fact sheets and www.self-harm.co.uk
If you are worried about a child that is self harming, counselling can help, find out more on our counselling page.