Self-harmers are commonly looked down upon. They are considered by many as wasters : wasting their own time (seeking sympathy and attention), other people’s time and precious resources.
They are much misunderstood. Self-harm is a coping mechanism. It is a way of expressing very deep distress that cannot be put into words or even thoughts. It is an ‘inner scream’ that helps release emotional pain and show someone else how they feel.
Young women are most likely to self-harm, although the number of young men who do so is on the rise. Mental health problems, stressful circumstances (being homeless, being a single parent, being in financial difficulty), using drugs and alcohol are the commonest causes.
Myth 1: People who self harm don’t feel pain and therefore do not need painkillers to stitch wounds.
Of course they feel pain. They should be offered full assessment of their physical, psychological and social needs by a professional who has been trained in their treatment in an atmosphere of respect and understanding.
Myth 2: Young people who self-harm always have mental health problems.
Not always. Sometimes that is the only way they can cope with traumatic experiences from the past, for example, bullying or abuse.
Myth 3: Young people who self-harm want to commit suicide.
They often don’t. In extreme circumstances though, life can get too much for a young person and that is why it is important to seek help.
Myth 4: People who self-harm are just seeking attention or being manipulative.
Sometimes it is the only way they can express their pain, even though this can be very upsetting for those around them.
How can we help?
- Don’t ignore what’s happening.
- Tell them that you want to understand how they are feeling and want to help.
- Be honest about your feelings while not being critical of or blaming the young person.
- Emphasise the positive aspects of the young person’s life.
- Be realistic. They may not stop self-harming just because you want them to.
- Don’t take over but show you care.
Whether you are a patient or a carer, please seek professional help from GPs, psychiatrists, emergency departments, councellors, psychologists or psychotherapists.