Self-harm happens when someone tries to damage themselves or injure their body on purpose. It is usually seen as a response to different kinds of distressing emotional situations and it can often be a precursor to suicidal thoughts, linked as it is to anxiety and depression. In fact, over half people who have committed suicide have self-harmed themselves previously.
Self-harm can take many forms and isn’t just about the archetypal case of a young person cutting themselves. It can include burning and even punching and kicking or attempts at self-poisoning. Drug or alcohol abuse in certain circumstances can be seen as a form of self-harm as can eating disorders. Even exercising to the point where it causes damage to the body can be considered as self-harm.
People will self-harm for a variety of reasons and it is a practice that is generally kept well hidden from the loved ones around them. The behaviour can remain concealed until something catastrophic happens such as a suicide attempt.
If you are self-harming, then reaching out can be difficult, especially if you don’t believe anyone understands what you are going through. This kind of behaviour often represents itself in younger people and can be the first sign that something is wrong and needs to be treated. If you think that someone has been self-harming, there are a number of steps you can take.
Talking About Self-Harm
As with any mental health problem, it is imperative that you are not judgemental or moralistic when you approach the person concerned. Self-harm can be frightening to see and very difficult to come to terms with when it involves someone close to you such as a child. The person may not want to talk about their condition but you have to find a way in and it’s not use just hoping that it will go away. Sometimes it’s not possible to reach out to loved one when they most need it and you will have to consider contacting professional services who will be able to intervene.
Questions you will want to know are how long it has been going on and whether it is getting worse. There’s also the issue of the underlying cause. If someone is willing to talk then being as open and supportive as possible can help immensely.
What Feelings Are Behind the Behaviour?
Often professional intervention, either from a psychologist or qualified health professional, is the best answer. You shouldn’t feel guilty about going over the person’s head to do this. Self-harm is very serious and needs to be dealt with, no matter how withdrawn or uncooperative the person is. Moving towards a professional intervention may make it easier, in the end, for your loved one or friend to be open about what they are doing and why.
No one person is the same, of course. Someone could self-harm because they are being bullied at school. They could have a negative attitude to their body or low esteem. There could be other issues behind it such as abuse. Professional intervention can help get to the bottom of this and find solutions.
Is the Person at Immediate Risk?
Another question that has to answered urgently is how much risk there is to the person. Are they likely to badly injure themselves and need hospital treatment? Have they got suicidal tendencies and are they likely to do something more serious like take their own life. The immediate risk will determine whether they need supervised care for a while until they have recovered from this particular hurdle in their life.
Where to Find Help
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help someone who is self-harming. While you can contact your local doctor or physician to get immediate help, there are also support groups available online and usually local set ups where you can go and speak to people who know what they are talking about.
Below is a list of resources for help and information regarding self-harm: