Young people today are having to face many difficult situations and problems and they don’t know who to turn to to help them deal with them. Young people, who are suffering an immense amount of turmoil, will then find other ways to help them get through. Unfortunately, these will be dangerous and will mean that something is seriously wrong, and the person is crying out for help. Here we will discuss what self-harm is and how to spot it, why people will do it and how to help someone who is struggling.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm is when you hurt yourself on purpose to relieve feelings of distress. People sometimes self-harm when life feels hard to cope with. If someone is self-harming, they might be dealing with lots of intense thoughts and feelings and hurting themselves feels like the only way to let those feelings out. Alternatively, people may feel numb and want to hurt themself so that they can feel something.
The most common form of self-harm is when someone will physically hurt themselves. This tends to be in the form of cutting themselves, most commonly on their wrists, arms, or legs. Physical self-harm can also be through burning, over-dosing, pulling hair or picking skin.
It is important to know that self-harm is not always obvious. People might be doing things that are harmful, but not think of them as ‘self-harm’. This could include things like:
– using drugs or alcohol excessively
– not eating, over-eating, or making themselves sick
– spending all their time on addictive behaviours like gaming, social media or gambling
– over-exercising and/or exercising when we are injured
– getting into fights
– getting into situations on purpose where they risk getting hurt
– risky sexual behaviour
Why do people self-harm?
Things can happen in life that can leave us feeling overwhelmed, angry and hurt. Instead of finding ways to express those feelings to the world, some people may take this pain and anger out on themselves.
If someone is self-harming, there is always a reason. These could be:
– low self-esteem or issues with body image
– feelings of guilt, failure, or being unloved
– experiencing a traumatic incident
– family problems like a divorce
– a sudden change like a death, divorce or moving school
– exam stress or extreme pressure
– suffering abuse
Some young people say that they have been feeling desperate about a problem and don’t know where to turn for help. They feel trapped and helpless and self-injury helps them to feel more in control. Others may explain that it is feelings of anger or tension that get bottled up inside, until they feel like exploding and self-harm helps to relieve the tension that they feel.
If the person is suffering from unbearable feelings of guilt or shame this may be a way of punishing oneself. Sadly, a proportion of young people who self-harm do so because they feel so upset and overwhelmed that they wish to die by suicide. In that moment, many people just want their problems to disappear, and have no idea how to get help and they feel as if the only way out is to kill themselves.
How can I help?
As a parent/carer, it’s really hard to cope with a child/young person who is demonstrating self-harming behaviour or even who attempts suicide. It’s natural to feel angry, frightened or guilty. Try to keep calm and caring, even if you feel cross or frightened; this will help your child/young person know you can manage their distress and that they can come to you for help and support, now and in the future.
Notice when the young person seems upset, withdrawn or irritable or any other change in their behaviour and personality. Physical self-harm is often kept secret but there may be clues, such as refusing to wear short sleeves or to take off clothing for sports.
You should try to encourage them to talk about their worries and tell them that you will take them seriously. Show them you care by listening, offering sympathy and understanding, and helping them to solve any problems.
It may be that you can not solve this problem on your own and you need specialist professional help. If the young person is self-harming by cutting themselves or other physical ways, it is important that they have help. Speak to your GP who can refer you to your local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
If the young person has taken an overdose, it is vital that they are seen by a medical professional, usually at an emergency room. Even if the person looks ok, overdosing can have a delayed reaction and they will need to be checked over properly.
There are lots of charities that also offer help for this:
Childline – provides a free and confidential telephone service for children.
Helpline: 0800 1111.
National Self-Harm Network – UK charity offering support, advice and advocacy services to people affected by self-harm directly or in a care role.
The Samaritans – Provide a 24-hour service offering confidential emotional support to anyone who is in crisis.
Helpline 08457 909090 (UK)
YoungMinds – provides information and advice on child mental health issues
Helpline:0800 802 5544.
All clinicians at Oxford CBT practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or are Psychologists, providing evidence-based interventions and support for a range of issues for both young people and adults. If you would like to book an appointment you can do so on our online booking portal. If you have a question please get in touch via our online contact form or call us on 01865 920077.