In the UK, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 4 males engage in self-injury. In 2014, a Lancet Psychiatry study found that 6% of people had self-injured with the highest rate amongst people aged 16-24. As we approach self-injury awareness day, we at Smart TMS want to raise awareness of self-injury and open up the conversation about what can be perceived as a ‘taboo’ topic.
Self- Injury Awareness Day
Self-injury awareness day (SIAD) aims to raise awareness and reduce the stereotypes and stigma associated with people who self-injure. SIAD focuses on helping family members and friends recognise the signs of those who may self-injure. In turn, this encourages people to talk about their mental health struggles and ask for help.
What is Self-Injury?
Self-injury is non suicidal behaviour whereby a person deliberately hurts or inflicts pain upon themselves. Often, this is used as a coping mechanism to try and relieve themselves of difficult feelings or cope in overwhelming situations. Importantly, anybody can be affected by self-harm, there is no typical person who hurts themselves. However, people who suffer from low self-esteem, trauma, abuse and perfectionism may turn to self-injury. Several mental health disorders are also associated with self-injury which include but aren’t limited to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.
For some people self-injury can help turn their emotional pain into a physical pain which is easier to manage and process. Thus, self-injury can help some people experience temporary relief as it can help them feel calm, stop them feeling numb or disconnected from themselves, help escape traumatic memories whilst gaining a sense of control and reducing their overwhelming emotions. However, self-harm carries risks as it can escalate quickly and can make some people feel even worse because of the guilt of injuring themselves which can consequently lead to more self-injury as well as in some cases leading to further problems such as septicaemia if an individual cuts themselves.
Forms of Self injury and Recognising the Signs
It is important to recognise that there are a variety of ways an individual can self-injure, some of which include:
- Hair pulling
- Bone breaking
If you are concerned for someone you know, some of the signs to look out for are:
- Unexplained cuts, burns or bruises
- Keeping covered up even in hot weather conditions
- Becoming withdrawn
- Indications of hair pulling
Causes of Self-injury
Self-injury only provides a temporary relief. Unfortunately, the underlying cause of this behaviour is unlikely to go once this behaviour is carried out. There is no single cause of self-injury. The cause of self-injury is different for everyone and in some cases an individual at first may not know why they start self-injuring. Any situation can cause someone to self-injure but some common situations which can lead to self-injury are:
- Work or financial pressure
- Finding it difficult to manage difficult feelings, such as anxiety, depression, anger, sadness
- Alcohol and drugs can increase the likelihood of self-injury
It can be very difficult for an individual to stop self-injuring therefore it is important to seek professional help and advice.
Ways to Support Someone who Self-injures
When a person self-injures it can be the consequence of a build-up of feelings whereby the person doesn’t feel they can talk to someone or don’t know who to turn to, so instead they self-injure as a coping mechanism to release their feelings. Therefore, how you react to finding out a friend or loved one self-injures is vital as some reactions such as giving them ultimatums to stop can lead to the person feeling more isolated or carrying out the behaviour more.
Some ways to support someone who self-injures include:
- Don’t panic, instead listen to what they have to say even if it feels uncomfortable
- Don’t judge
- Make them feel supported and let them feel reassured you’re there for them and they are not alone
- Be empathetic and understanding
- Don’t tell them they are attention seeking
- Offer to help them seek professional support but make sure to move at the individual’s pace and when they feel comfortable to do so
- Remind them of their positive qualities
- Get involved in activities together such as exercise which can be alternative activities to self-injury
Self-injury is a sign of emotional distress; therefore, it is vital we support, listen and help individuals who self-injure. If you are concerned about a friend or loved one and would like further help and information on self- injury here are some useful websites with more information.