Self-harm is sometimes called self-injury or self-mutilation. It can also be referred to in terms on a particular act, such as cutting or burning. My preferred term in self-harm, which is the one I will use throughout this article.
What is it and why do people do it?
Self-harm is what it sounds like – people harming themselves. This can be in a variety of ways, such as cutting, scratching, burning, overdosing, picking at your skin and pulling your hair out. Cutting is the method most commonly associated with self-harm.
Reasons for self-harm vary. It is viewed by many as a way of punishing yourself, and can also be related to mental illness such as depression and bipolar disorder. It can also be a way of controlling something about your life, and it can provide a release for emotions, like crying.
Who does it?
A common misconception is that self-harm is only done by teenage girls. This is not the case. Anyone can be affected by self-harm, including both genders, children, adults and professional such as doctors.
What treatment is available?
There is no direct treatment that will help people to stop self-harming. Some people will self-harm for years, decades even, and will only be able to stop when they are ready. Trying to force people to stop by taking any ‘weapons’ away, for example, is likely to result in them using whatever they can find to self-harm, which may be something less clean or that will cause more damage.
Counselling can allow the self-harmer to talk about what is going on in their lives, although they may not wish to talk about the self-harm directly. By exploring their emotions with someone who will not judge them, a person can begin to gain confidence and improve their self-esteem, which could result in the reduction of their self-harm.
Medications can be prescribed by doctors for those diagnosed with depression and other mental illnesses. Although these will not work on the self-harm directly, the effect of them on the person’s mood may lead to a reduction in self-harm.
Freeman, J. (2010) Understanding Self-Harm. Dublin. Veritas.
Kenrick, J. (2007) Red Tears. London. Faber and Faber. [Fiction].
Strong, M. (2005) A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain. London. Virago.
Sutton, J. (2007) Healing the Hurt Within: Understand Self-Injury and Self-Harm, and Heal the Emotional Wounds. 3rd Edition. Oxford. How to Books.