Self-harm Contributed by: Caitlin Burns

What is Self-harm?

What is Self-harm?

Self-harm is the act of intentionally damaging your own body. There are many ways this can be done such as scratching, burning and cutting but also by poisoning or starving oneself. Many people find that the act becomes very addictive. For many people self-harm is a way of coping or managing negative emotions but it can also be done as a way of self-punishment.

 

A lot of people hide their self-harming due to the shame it brings and the fear of others finding out. For people who injure themselves by means of cutting, burning etc., it is common that they cover their skin at all times, even when it is inappropriate e.g. in hot weather. For people who self-harm through starvation, loose fitting garments are often worn to avoid people noticing. Self-harm is therefore often invisible to those around the harmer, apart from closest friends and family members.

Some people will only self-harm once or twice during a particularly stressful period, while for others the problem can continue for years.

Fast Facts!

  • Fast facts

    · 1 in 10 adults self-harm.

  • · Self harm is more common in young people and females.
  • · Many people who self-harm are not trying to kill themselves.

What causes it?

What causes it?

There are many reasons for self-harm and these are different for every person. In most instances, it is used as a coping mechanism and a release for overwhelming, negative emotions. The first time someone self-harms, it could be a reaction to trauma of some kind e.g. the death of someone close to you or experience of abuse. It could also be due to a slower build-up of negative emotions to an intensity which cannot be coped with. This could be due to bullying, exam pressure, difficult relationships, or sexual or gender identity problems.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms

 There are many symptoms of self-harm that are individual to the person and type of self-harm occurring. Some of these are:

  • · Keeping their skin covered at all times even in unusual circumstances.
  • · Unexplained injuries e.g. cuts and burns.
  • · Self-loathing.
  • · Changes in appetite and weight.
  • · Secretiveness.
  • · Low mood, self esteem and interest.
  • · Social isolation.
  • · Signs of drug and alcohol abuse.

How is it diagnosed?

How is it diagnosed?

A GP can firstly treat any physical damage caused by the self-harm, and secondly recommend further assessment. This is likely to involve the patient discussing themselves, their thoughts and feelings, and their self-harm behaviour with their GP. GPs might also ask about alcohol and drug use, and about any underlying mental health conditions the person is experiencing. A quick physical health examination may also take place.

How is it treated?

Treatment

The GP can refer people to local mental healthcare professionals who will devise a treatment plan to help with self-harm recovery. This treatment normally includes seeing a therapist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist who will talk through the patient’s thoughts and how these are affecting their mental state, normally using CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). They will help to identify patterns of thought which are negatively affecting the patient and will teach them coping strategies for managing these. They may also refer the patient to another specialist depending on the individual circumstances surrounding their self-harm e.g. a bereavement counsellor if they have experienced loss. It might also be recommended that they attend a self-help group specific to any trauma they have experienced. Medication may also be prescribed dependent on any diagnosed underlying mental health condition.

Want to know more?

Want to know more?

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-harm/

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/self-injury/Pages/Introduction.aspx