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Self-harm

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when someone intentionally damages or injures their body. There are many different ways people can intentionally harm themselves, such as cutting or burning their skin, punching or hitting themselves and poisoning themselves with tablets or toxic chemicals. In most cases, people who self-harm do it to help them cope with overwhelming emotional issues, which may be caused by:

  • Social problems – such as being bullied, having difficulties at work or school, coming to terms with their sexuality, debt or unemployment
  • Trauma – such as physical or sexual abuse, the death of a close family member or friend, or having a miscarriage
  • Psychological problems – such as having repeated thoughts or voices telling them to self-harm, disassociating (losing touch with who they are and with their surroundings), or borderline personality disorder.

Self-harm is more common than many people realize, particularly among young people, where it is estimated that 1 in 10 self-harm at some point. This figure is likely to be much higher, as many people who self-harm do not seek help.

With time, space and support people often find other solutions to cope with how they feel, or these feelings are resolved. Self-harm is a risk factor for suicide, and over half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm. However, many more people self-harm than die by suicide, and it is important to note that many people who self-harm do not want to end their lives.

Getting help

If you have felt like harming yourself or are harming yourself, it may feel as though you don’t have anyone to talk to – even friends or family. But there may well be someone who can listen to you. It may help to:

  • Tell a friend or relative
  • Contact your GP (or mental health team if you have one)
  • Go to the Emergency Department

If you are self-harming your GP can refer you to healthcare professionals at a local community mental health team, or a team based in the hospital with the Emergency Department for further assessment. This assessment will result in your care team working out a treatment plan with you to help with your distress.

Health professionals know it is not always possible to stop straight away. You may feel ashamed of self-harming. Just by talking about your worries, fears and distress with someone you can trust can make you feel better. It can also help you to get things clearer in your mind, to feel more hopeful, and to think about possible solutions.

Treatments for self-harm

Treatment for people who self-harm usually involves seeing a therapist. They will help you to discuss your thoughts and feelings, and to understand how they affect your behaviour and wellbeing. Your therapist can also teach you coping strategies to help prevent further episodes of self-harm. If you’re badly depressed, or have any other mental health problems then you may be advised to take antidepressants or other medication. Self-harm is often linked to anxiety and depression.

Resources

Podcast

In this episode we discuss personal experiences of self-harm and coping techniques, the latest research in the field and how  misunderstanding and stigma can stop people who self-harm from seeking help.

Websites

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National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University, Hadyn Ellis Building, Maindy Road, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ

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