Self-harm is sometimes known as self-injury and describes a wide range of things people do to themselves to harm their body. Often people who self-harm do not want to die, however many experience suicidal thoughts at times.
Other harmful actions like smoking, excessive drinking, driving dangerously, using substances like glue or taking drugs are not usually seen as self-harm in this sense. Eating disorders may be thought by some to be a form of self-harm but are not the focus of this section.
For some, self-harm can continue over many months or years without becoming dangerous, but sometimes it can result in death or permanent injury even if the person themselves does not necessarily intend this. Self-harm needs to be taken seriously, but it is important to respond to it in a calm and helpful way.
Although people rarely talk about self-harm it is relatively common, little understood and can be very distressing.
Why do people self-harm?
The underlying reasons why someone might self-harm are often complex. People may find it difficult to explain why they self-harm and those around them often find it hard to understand. The reasons people self-harm varies widely from person to person and sometimes from one time to the next.
Sometimes self-harm is used as a way of coping with difficult feelings or experiences. This may include anxiety, depression, bullying, being abused or family breakdown but can involve many other problems that people face in their everyday lives. Other reasons commonly described include:
- to relieve tension, pressure or anger
- to feel something – to know you still exist
- to feel in control
- to get a buzz
- to express, escape or stop bad feelings
- to punish yourself because you feel you are ‘bad’
- to let people know how bad things are
- to get people to listen to you.
How other people react to self-harm
Sometimes people who self-harm are accused of attention seeking. They can also be considered a threat to others. This is not usually the case but can lead to unhelpful attitudes and responses from other people. Above all, people who self-harm need understanding, and their families and friends need support.
Knowing someone is self-harming and not being able to stop them can be very distressing. If it is someone close to you, you may feel angry, confused, frightened, worried and helpless. Sometimes this may cause you to react in unhelpful ways.