Wednesday 1 March marks Self-Injury Awareness Day, a global campaign aimed to promote more conversation about the topic and ultimately support those who self-injure.

Self-injury, which you may know as self-harm, occurs when somebody intentionally causes hurt to their body. Young Minds reports that 1 in 12 young people self-harm and 75% of young people know someone who self-harms. It’s a difficult topic to discuss, but it’s crucial to spread awareness about it, which is why Self-Injury Awareness Day is observed every year across the world. The day is dedicated to raising awareness about self-injury, providing support to those who engage in self-harm, and educating people about the warning signs and risk factors associated with this behaviour.

In this blog, we will outline some of the factors that could lead to self-harm and highlight some warning signs that may indicate someone is struggling with self-injury. We will also share tips on how to build resilience and debunk some common misconceptions about self-injury.

What causes people to self-harm

Self-harm affects individuals of all gender, age, race, religion and backgrounds, and the reason why a person might self-injure is different for everyone. For some, their reason may relate to stressful life events, such as relationship breakdowns, job loss or financial pressure, whereas others may use self-harm as a way of feeling something when they’re battling with a sense of numbness.

For some people, self-harm can be used as a method to distract themselves from intrusive thoughts, including thoughts of suicide, and it can in fact be a coping mechanism that helps them deal with their feelings. The truth is anything that causes stress can lead to an individual feeling like self-harm is an option.

What are the warning signs of self-harm?

While it’s important to be knowledgeable that some behaviours and scenarios could be signs that someone might be self-harming, it isn’t to say that there are definite indicators, and you should always be mindful when approaching the topic of visible injuries.

Unexplained cuts, bruises or burns – often located on wrists or arms – may be a sign that someone is self-harming, however not all signs come in the form of noticeable physical damage. There are many forms of self-harm, and they are not always easy to spot. Other indicators may be:

  • Wearing long sleeves and/or trousers all year round, even in hot weather, to hide any cuts or marks.
  • Change in eating habits and unusual changes in weight, either loss or gain.
  • Over exercising.
  • Signs of depression, such as consistent low mood or showcasing a lack of interest in anything.
  • Signs of hair being pulled out.
Building resilience and helping to overcome self-harm

Resilience is the ability to respond to stress and relies on factors such as self-esteem and relationships with other people. Building resilience and overcoming the urgency to self-harm can be a difficult journey, but it is possible with the right mindset and support. To build resilience, it is important to focus on developing coping mechanisms that work for you, such as meditation, exercise, or creative outlets. Identifying your triggers and learning healthy ways to manage them can also help build resilience.

Additionally, seeking professional help, whether through therapy or support groups, can provide the necessary support and guidance to overcome self-harm. It is important to remember that recovery is not a linear process and setbacks may occur, but by practicing self-compassion and seeking help when needed, it is possible to build resilience and overcome self-harm.

Engaging in positive reactions with loved ones and friends is also an effective way to build resilience, as it can help those who self-harm relieve stress and offer an outlet to express their emotions. Negative memories and interactions might lead individuals to avoid certain people, events or behaviours, whereas having positive relationships and memories can help those to build valuable, positive and trustworthy connections that help prevent feelings of loneliness and offer opportunities to express themselves. Research has shown that recalling positive memories improves resilience in young people enabling them to cope better with stress.

Misconceptions about self-harm

There are many misconceptions around self-harm, varying from how it is done, to the reasons why. Some people think that self-harm is done as a way of getting attention. Self-harm is in fact very private and personal, with those who do it often going to great lengths to hide it.

There is also a belief that people who self-harm must want to end their own life. This is not true, while some people who self-injure may experience thoughts of suicide, self-harm can also be used as a way of coping with any kind of emotional stress or trauma and is not immediately linked to suicidal thoughts.

Another common misconception about self-injury which might surprise some people is the belief that children who self-harm must be victims of abuse. As mentioned, self-harm is often used to cope with traumatic events which could include physical, mental or sexual abuse, however it could also be caused by stressful events which might not be linked to any abuse at all. For some, self-harm can be a way to cope with intense emotions that are difficult to manage, such as feelings of overwhelming sadness, anxiety, anger, or numbness.

Self-harm can provide a temporary sense of relief or release from emotional distress, and some people may even describe it as a way to “feel something” when they are emotionally numb. It can also be a way to regain a sense of control or to punish oneself for perceived failures or mistakes. While self-harm is not a healthy coping mechanism and can lead to physical harm and long-term consequences, for some people it may feel like the only way to cope with their emotions at the time.

How to help someone who is self-harming

Whether someone tells you they are self-injuring, or you suspect that someone is hurting themselves, it can be difficult to know how best to approach the situation and what to say. This discovery might cause a wave of emotions, however it’s important that you try not to panic or overreact as this could have a negative impact on how much the person affected opens up to you and others in the future.

Instead, we suggest doing the following to offer effective support:

  • Let the person self-harming know they are not alone, and self-harming is common.
  • Signpost to local resources.
  • Ask the person if they are aware what things might need to change in their life in order to feel able to stop self-harming.
  • Regardless of the severity of the self-harm, always praise the courage it takes to open up.
  • Be available to talk to the person whenever possible.
What resources are available

It’s important to encourage anyone who uses self-harm to be open with a GP or medical professional who can provide ongoing support. Here are some services that might also help:

  • selfinjurysupport.org.uk – Offers self-harm support for women and girls
  • childline.org.uk – Provides support for people up to the age of 19.
  • net – This is a webchat for men who self-harm.
  • healthforteens.co.uk – This site offers advice for teens about health and wellbeing.
  • harmless.org.uk – A user-led organisation providing support for people who self-harm, as well as their friends and family.

At PAPYRUS, our advisers speak to many young people who are struggling with self-harm or self-injury. For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice please contact PAPYRUS HOPELINE247 on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org

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