Self-harm is when someone injures or harms themselves on purpose as a way of coping with difficult feelings that build up inside.
- People self-harm because they are in pain and trying to cope.
- They could also be trying to show that something is wrong. They need to be taken seriously.
- Self-harm is always a sign of something being seriously wrong.
- Young people often self-harm if there is a crisis in a close relationship
- Common examples include `overdosing' (self-poisoning), hitting, cutting or burning oneself, pulling hair or picking skin, or self-strangulation.
- It can also include taking illegal drugs and excessive amounts of alcohol.
People say different things about why they self-harm
- Some say that they have been feeling desperate about a problem and don't know where to turn for help.
- They feel trapped and helpless. Self-injury helps them to feel more in control.
- Some people talk of feelings of anger or tension that get bottled up inside, until they feel like exploding.
- Self-injury helps to relieve the tension that they feel.
- Feelings of guilt or shame may also become unbearable.
- Self-harm is a way of punishing oneself.
- Some people try to cope with very upsetting experiences, such as trauma or abuse, by convincing themselves that the upsetting event(s) never happened.
- These people sometimes suffer from feelings of 'numbness' or 'deadness'.
- They say that they feel detached from the world and their bodies, and that self-injury is a way of feeling more connected and alive.
- A proportion of young people who self-harm do so because they feel so upset and overwhelmed by difficulties that they wish to end their lives by committing suicide.
- Often, the decision to attempt suicide is made quickly without thinking.
Symptoms of self-harm
- Changes in behaviour that present as the young person being upset, withdrawn or irritable.
- Self-injury is often kept secret but there may be clues, such as refusing to wear short sleeves or change for PE/swimming
Help for self-harm
- Talking to someone they trust
- Self-help group (group formed of young people that all self-harm)
- Group therapy (lead by a professional)
- Young people self-harm as a way of dealing with very difficult emotions. Try to understand their feelings of distress.
- Listen carefully to what a young person says do not assume you know how they feel.
- Try to be non-judgemental when dealing with incidents of self-harm.
- Help young people to think about their self-harm not as a shameful secret, but as a problem to be sorted out.
Dealing with self-harming behaviour
- Don’t struggle with someone when they are about to self-harm – it's better to walk away and to suggest they come and talk about it rather than do it.
- If they do decide to self-harm talk calmly and request that they take care of their immediate physical needs, e.g. clean and dress wounds.
- Try to understand the triggers that lead individual young people to self-harm.
- Help them to find out about self-harm and available help by providing information by organisations such as Young Minds.
School policy and protocols
- Ensure all staff are informed of the school’s self-harm protocols and safeguarding policy.
A model policy for use in schools / colleges