Dealing with Teen Self Harm

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Information & Advice

Health and Beauty Magazine

Dealing with Teen Self Harm

Follow our guide on how to cope with teen self harm.

Lucie Tobin

Lucie Tobin

Health & Beauty Magazine Online Editor

Published January 2009

Teen years can be difficult. We speak to the experts who'll guide you in the best way to help and support those who self harm...

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 help:

  • 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:

  • 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.

For more information and advice:
ChildLine - 0800 11 11

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Written by Ese Odetah

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