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Self-harm and/or injury

What self-harm/injury is

There is a wide range of self-harming behaviours including; cutting, bruising, scrubbing, hair plucking, picking, drug use and/or misuse, eating problems such as anorexia, bulimia, unsafe sexual practices, self-isolation, running away. These behaviours may or may not cause actual visible injury to an individual but do cause harm. There are can also be more serious injuries inflicted, the breaking of bones for example.

Why do people self-harm?

People self-harm for a range of reasons. We know that individuals who have experienced abuse and trauma may well self-harm to try and cope. There are links with stress, homelessness, neglect, experiencing bullying, physical abuse, emotional abuse, loss of a parent through death or divorce, infertility and more. We also know that LGBTI individuals are more likely to self-harm than others (1)

Overall self-harming behaviour tends to be about an individual trying to cope with overwhelming emotions. Other reasons for self-harming that we know about include; It can help someone to show the emotional pain they are experiencing, for them to reconnect and feel alive, to displace emotional pain to the physical pain, to stop a dissociative response, to release endorphins, to express self-hate.

What self/harm injury is not

Self-harm/Injury is often seen as attention seeking and should be stopped. However often the attention those who self-harm receive is negative. People are often told that they should stop what they are doing and look after themselves. It is not as easy as this. If someone is trying to cope with overwhelming feelings and has no other way in doing so then to just stop self-harming is not helpful.

It is not a failed suicide attempt, many people who have talked about the reasons for their self-harm will speak about how this helps them stay alive and manage.

How can I stop? How can I help someone stop?

Many people do manage, with the right support, to stop self-harming. It can be helpful to explore with an appropriate support worker what is going on for you in your life and the reasons for your self-harm.

There are some useful sites that also provide resources that are free that may help; Self-Injury Support's Resource Hub has a section on self-help ideas. This includes a worksheet on reducing your self-harm and why do I self-harm?

We recognise that you may find it difficult to speak about your self-harm, you may feel ashamed, judge yourself or perhaps you have tried to speak to someone in the past and had an unhelpful response. If you are a survivor it may be helpful to know that all our support workers have received training on self-harm/injury. We also have resources available here that your support worker could work through with you.

The website also has a section for supporting a family member or friend which includes the THRIVE Self-harm Resource pack. This has a good section on potential alternatives to self-harm.

It is important to not judge someone for their self-harm, don't pressurise them into stopping, the goal here is not to stop the self-harm/injury. It can be more helpful to help them build a support network or perhaps you can look at some of the resources available that may enable them to make sense of their self-harm. Let them know that you care, many people feel ashamed about their self-harming behaviour. If you don't feel able to support them seek support for yourself, perhaps help them access an appropriate service if that is something that they are ready for.

If you are the parent, partner or friend of a survivor then we can offer you some support details about how to contact us can be found on our contact page

Safety and self-harm

If you do self-harm then it can be useful to consider some of the following self-care for self-harm;

  • Have a well-stocked first aid kit, antiseptic wipes, paper stitches, plasters and/or burn cream and dressings.
  • If you can avoid self-harming when you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or whilst having a flashback.
  • If you use razor blades make sure that they are clean
  • Clean any wounds afterwards.
  • Seek medical treatment if; you can't stop the bleeding, the cut is long and deep (you can see ligaments, vessels etc.); you experience numbness of tingling near a cut or if there is something stuck in the wound.
  • If you have burnt yourself run the burn for at least 20 minutes under cold water. Don't use ice or creams. Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burn area, do not remove anything that is stuck.
  • To cover a burn it is better to use cling film or a clean plastic bag,
  • If you are concerned about your injury please do note hesitate to contact medical services.
  • It is recommended that you get medical attention for all chemical and electrical burns, any burn bigger than your hand, any burn that has caused white or charred skin and burns on your face, hands, arms, feet or genitals that cause blisters.
  • You deserve to receive proper medical attention for your self-harm/injury.

Useful links

A useful booklet produced by Rape Crisis Scotland can be found here Information for survivors of sexual violence - Self-harm

A useful website for young people is Heads Above the Waves. There is a young person's blog, ideas for things to try and information.

Self-harm UK have a website that has information for parents and Young people.

There is a lot of useful information and free publications and resources on the Self-injury Support website


(1) Stonewall (2008) Prescription for Change

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