Self Harm

May 4, 2008 – 7:31 pm

Research by the Samaritans has shown that more than 1 in 10 adolescents have deliberately harmed themselves. They also found that young people are more likely to self harm it if they have friends who have already done so. This is how self-harming spreads through schools and becomes a ‘trend’; it can become a fashion cult; it is often a display of hardness ‘look at the pain I can bear’, combined with softness ‘look at the pain I feel inside’.

Common ways of harming

The most common method of self-harming is cutting using any sharp instruments such as a knife, a razor blade, scissors, glass, staplers, drawing pins etc.

Cuts are usually on the arms or legs as scratches in these areas can easily be explained or blamed on the cat or a bramble. In more severe cases, the cuts can be on the breasts, stomach or pubic area. Cuts vary in severity; many are only on the surface (although they may cover a whole arm) but in the UK 24,000 teenagers a year are admitted to hospital with self-inflicted wounds that require medical treatment.

Other harmful behaviours

  • Inflicting burns on the body using matches or a cigarette lighter and occasionally a lighted cigarette.
  • Hair pulling is also a type of self-harm although this comes more in the category of obsessive compulsion.
  • Head banging against a wall or punching a wall are other ways of inflicting pain on oneself.

Most of these habits are passing phases and only a very small minority require medical assistance.

Why do they do it?

Self-harming can be:

  • A form of self-punishment, such as taking on the blame for a parental split
  • A mechanism for coping with emotional stress
  • A way of getting a buzz and experiencing a thrill of excitement
  • A sensuous experience when other sexual feelings are felt as scary
  • A way of disturbing adults
  • A way of getting attention from friends, family or teachers

It can also:

  • Distract from inner pain
  • Push the boundaries
  • Give a feeling of control when life is often controlled by adults
  • Feel good at the time because it releases endorphins
  • Make them feel they ‘belong’ within their peer group who may also self-harm

What Can Be Done To Help?

It is very distressing to discover that your child is deliberately inflicting harm on themselves. But however upset you are feeling it is important that you:

  • Stay calm.
  • Try not to show you are devastated
  • Try not to be judgemental.
  • Take control.

Firstly, it is essential that you try to ascertain the extent of the cutting or burning, as medical assistance might be necessary. Remember that they are unlikely to have sterilised the cutting tool before using it and infection might set in.

Try to encourage your child to talk but be accepting if s/he prefers to talk to someone outside the family. Many schools have counsellors or school nurses on site. If all else fails, consult your Doctor as they can refer to a child psychiatrist or arrange for the family to have therapy together, although there may be a waiting list for all of these services.

See An End to Self Harming on the Success Stories page for more information about how counselling can help.

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