Spotting the signs of self-harm can be challenging, and understanding it even harder, but are vital steps in prevention and recovery both long and short-term
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Self-harm is an issue that often, for those it doesn’t affect, sits out of sight and out of mind. However in order to best prevent against it, it is crucial that we understand both what it is and why it happens.
Mental Health charity Mind work to tackle issues surrounding mental health and have compiled information designed to combat self-harm, targeting people both struggling themselves or concerned about others.
(WARNING: Reading about how people self harm can be triggering. If you are feeling vulnerable it may be advisable not to read on)
Below we will discuss what self-harm is, why it happens, and how we can help prevent it.
What is self-harm?
“Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences,” say Mind.
However, the reasons and logic that may lead someone to self-harm are often far from straightforward, requiring individual attention rather than a broad, one-size-fits-all approach.
This might be that some feelings are too hard to put into words, wanting to make invisible pain visible, a desire to create a sense of control or to create something reliable or a reason to want to physically care for oneself.
Why do people self-harm?
The reasons why someone self-harms will of course be unique to them, however common causes can include: pressure at school or work; bullying; financial stresses; bereavement; sexual, physical or emotional abuse; confusion about sexuality; relationship breakdown; job loss and illness.
Mind stresses that desire to self-harm can happen to anyone, and there is no typical reason why they may feel that way.
How can we help prevent self-harm?
“During intense urges to hurt yourself, it can be hard to imagine that it’s possible to do anything else. But there are steps you can take to help you make other choices over time,” write Mind.
They suggest trying to incorporate the following: Understanding patterns of self-harm by learning to recognise triggers, becoming aware of the urge to self harm and being able to identify distractions; Keeping a diary of what has happened before so that you can build up patterns to better understand your own behaviour; Distracting yourself from the urge to self-harm by identifying feelings of anger and frustration, sadness and fear, desire for control, numbness, shame and self hatred; Delaying self harm by trying to wait five minutes or so and slowly extending the pause over time.
For some, these steps will feel too simplistic, and so Mind recommends looking at information about longer term solutions. These techniques, “include a deeper exploration of the reasons why you self-harm, to help you find alternatives.” They include: Accepting your feelings; building your self esteem; looking after your general wellbeing; understanding your self harm in more detail or reaching out for support. More information about to approach these steps can be found on Mind’s website.
It can be very challenging to discover someone you care about is self-harming. If it should happen to you, Mind suggests an open minded approach, don’t panic and remember that self-harm is often a way of managing very challenging feelings, remind them of their positive qualities, be empathetic and try to let them have control of their own decisions.
For a huge range of contacts and further advice, visit Mind’s website.
For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.