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Self-Harm and Communicating your Problems

“TRIGGER WARNING- This blog contains information about self-harm which may be upsetting to some people”.

Self-harm is when someone intentionally inflicts an injury on their body as a way of dealing with emotional stress or anxiety. Self-harming behaviours can include cutting, scratching, burning, punching hard objects, and swallowing objects.

Self-harming behaviours disproportionately affect younger people, as they try to find ways to cope with difficult feelings. It is difficult to measure exactly how many young people engage in self-harming behaviours because it often goes on in secret, without family, friends, or professional support networks being aware of it. However, McManus et al (2019) reported in Lancet Psychiatry that a fifth of girls in the UK “self-harm”.

Self-harm is often under misunderstood as “attention seeking”, however it is a way for some people to deal with their overwhelming feelings. If you experience trauma (whether this is a singular traumatic event, or a long-term experience of trauma), it can break down your emotional strength, or what is known as “resilience”. Self-harm is a response to trauma, and it can be a way of communicating emotional pain. In some cases, the person may deliberately display their wounds as a way of reaching out for support.

Some of the warning signs that someone is self-harming can include;

  • Difficulty in managing emotions.
  • Visible scars or scratches.
  • Wearing long sleeves even on a hot day.
  • Spending an unusually long time in the bathroom or their bedroom.
  • Having a box or a kit of sharp items and first-aid supplies.

What should you do if you suspect someone you know is self-harming? The most important thing is to notice and acknowledge someone’s wounds. Don’t try to deal with it simply as a medical problem which needs a plaster or a bandage, it is also important to also acknowledge the injury as a form of communication. It is also a subject that needs to be approached carefully as people who self-harm often feel a deep sense of stigma, shame, and isolation.

If you are someone who engages in self-harming behaviours, then you should try to think carefully about the emotions that you are feeling before acting upon them. Be mindful with your feelings. Think – do I feel angry, scared, disappointed, anxious, sad? Try to name that feeling and observe what it feels like in your body. Self-harming is a way of coping with underlying problems, so it is important to address what those problems are by talking about them. Try not to bottle up your emotions, and reach out for help from friends, family, a school counsellor, or professional therapy service.


Mind -

Young Minds -

Thanks for reading, Fiona!