Self-harm, dispelling the myths

Self-harm (SH), or to give it its up to date classification ‘non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), is NHS dictionary defined as ‘deliberate injury to oneself, typically as a manifestation of a psychological or psychiatric disorder.’

Self-harm is basically behaviour where deliberate harm is done to oneself. Predominantly as a way of coping with overwhelming upsetting thoughts and feelings.

There are numerous reasons why young people turn to self-harming. But for identification purposes here are a few:

  • difficulties at home
  • arguments
  • problems with friends
  • school pressures
  • bullying
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • transitions and changes, such as changing schools, alcohol and drug use etc.

The TV soap Hollyoaks was recently commended for its excellent portrayal by character Lily Drinkwell and the growing trend of SH in teenage girls. By far the highest risk of SH remains in teenage girls between the ages of 13-16. Recent GP data indicated a staggering rise of 68% in the last three years.

The facts:

  • Teenage girls are three times more likely to SH than teenage boys. Although, boys and adults do self-harm.
  • Self-harm is very common and probably affects more people than you think.
  • Most self-harmers indicate starting to SH at age 12.
  • Self-harm is not itself an attempt at suicide. However, there is evidence suggesting self-harmers are of greater risk of suicide.
  • The UK has the highest levels of SH in Europe.
  • NSPCC Childline indicate SH as one of the top reasons why children contact the charity.
  • A recent 2015 study found 10% of young people SH (this equates to two children in every secondary school classroom having self-harmed or are self-harming.)

The myths:

  • Self-harm is attention seeking. Not true. Majority of SH is committed in secret and to parts of the body covered by clothing.
  • Self-harm is not a fashion or trend aligned to ‘Goths’ or ‘Emos’ or some subculture.
  • Self-harmers enjoy it. Not true. The physical pain associated with SH is not enjoyable. It’s a way of coping with overwhelming psychological distress.
  • People who self-harm are suicidal. Not true. Although there is a correlation to victims of suicide having self-harmed in the past. Self-harm is not an attempt at suicide.
  • Only teenage girls self-harm. Not true. Although the highest group is girls aged between 13-16, boys and adults do self-harm.

Why do people self-harm?

There are varying reasons why someone chooses to self-harm. What worries and stresses one person may seem insignificant to another. Some people find it easier to share and talk about the problems as they arise with family and or friends. But for some, this seems impossible even unimaginable. When we don’t express our emotions and talk about the things that make us distressed, angry or upset, the pressure can build up and become unbearable. Some people turn this in on themselves and use their bodies to express the thoughts and feelings they can’t say aloud. People often harm themselves when this all gets too much. If you self-harm, you might find that when you feel angry, distressed, worried or depressed, you feel the urge to hurt yourself even more.

It is possible to live without self-harm. It is important to know that you won’t always feel the way you do now and you definitely are not alone. With the right help and support most people who self-harm can and do fully recover.

If you or someone you know are self-harming, a counsellor will be able to offer the help and support needed to overcome this difficult time. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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