What is self harm?
Self harm is when someone deliberately injures or harms themselves. Among teens, cutting is the most common form of self harm,
but sometimes it can also involve pulling hair, burning and overdosing on drink or drugs.
'It's an indication that something is wrong,' says Ian Trafford from 42nd Street, a youth mental health charity. 'For some, it's
a coping mechanism and a way of distracting yourself from painful feelings or emotions.'
Why does a teen self harm?
Teenagers harm themselves for many reasons. It can start because of an unexpected crisis, such as parents splitting up, or the
death of someone close. It may also be caused by an ongoing problem in their lives, such as bullying, worries about school or an
unhappy home environment.
Katie, a 19-year-old ex self harmer, started hurting herself at 16 because of problems at home and college. 'It was a build up
of pressure from my childhood and I didn't know how to deal with it,' says Katie. 'When I cut myself, I felt as though I was in
control. Cutting was my way of coping.'
How can friends and family help?
Learning that a teen, someone you care about, self harms can be very distressing, but there are some tips from Ian that can
- Although you may feel upset or angry, it's important to stay calm and not to panic. 'Raise the issue in a safe environment
and keep your own feelings at bay,' advises Ian. 'It can lead them to shut down because they feel guilty about how you feel.'
- 'Listen and find out how things are going generally in their life,' says Ian. 'Be wary of any changes, such as problems at
school or home that may have led to their self harming behaviour.'
- Let them know you're available for support. 'Work together to find practical solutions that will help them to deal with
their stress,' explains Ian. 'Find out what support is available and offer to attend appointments with them to see a student
adviser or counsellor.'
How can a self harmer help themselves?
It's not always possible to make the causes of self harm go away, but there are other ways to express and relieve the emotional
hurt you may be feeling:
For more information and advice:
- Develop a network of supportive people. 'Confiding in trusted friends, family members or a counsellor and talking though
problems may help to reduce the pressure and isolation that can lead to self harm,' suggests Ian. Sarah, 15, called ChildLine
and said she felt calmer by the end of the call. 'It's good to have someone who really wants to listen.'
- Keep busy by distracting yourself with things that help you to mange the urge to self harm. 'Try writing things down,
drawing, going for a run, hitting cushions or rubbing ice on the areas you would normally cut,' suggests Ian.
- Look after yourself by eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep, as they're all important in caring for your mental
and physical wellbeing. 'Swimming and going for a run helps to relieve my tension,' says Katie.
ChildLine - 0800 11 11
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Written by Ese Odetah