Self-harming is when somebody deliberately hurts themselves (through cutting, bruising, burning or other methods) in order to help deal with any emotional pain they might be experiencing. We often associate it with teenage girls, but it occurs in men and women of all ages and the UK has the one of the highest self-harm rates in Europe. For many, it is a way to release emotions when they are feeling numb and can be an immense relief, but the behaviour can quickly become addictive and in the long term causes a great deal of psychological trauma.
Many people wrongly believe those who self-harm are trying to get attention, but in fact most people desperately try to hide their behaviour. However there are crucial signs to look out for if you suspect a loved one may be self-harming, although just because somebody exhibits the signs it does not necessarily mean they self-harm.
- Frequent unexplained wounds or scars. May attempt to explain them by claiming they are clumsy or that 'the cat did it'.
- Covering up. Changes in clothes such as suddenly wearing long sleeves or wristbands and refusing to remove them, even in hot weather.
- Signs of depression such as low mood, lack of interest and low self-esteem.
- May need to be alone for long periods of time.
- You may also find objects such as razors or of knifes amongst their belongings.
- Talk calmly to them and listen to their troubles. This can provide an alternative outlet to release their pain
- Make sure they realise you are there to listen and are not going to judge them.
- Try and learn about the problem and what triggers it so you know when to be ready with support.
- Be careful not to give them ultimatums to try and stop their behaviour. Threats or punishments will just drive them further away.
- Communication is key but if they are unwilling to talk to you, ask them to write a letter, keep a diary or speak to an experienced counsellor.