Raising awareness about self-injury is incredibly important. Awareness leads to understanding and empathy, banishing judgement and fear, and reducing the number of people who feel alone and suffer in silence.
Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure, and reaching out to people who do.
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harming is when a person chooses to inflict pain on themselves in some way. If you are self-harming, you may be cutting or burning yourself, biting your nails excessively, developing an eating disorder or taking an overdose of tablets. It can also include taking drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol. It is usually a sign that something is wrong. Self-Harm is not always obvious and sometimes isn’t intentional (self harm can be done absently). A person may self-harm if they are feeling anxious, depressed or stressed or if they are being bullied and feel that they do not have a support network or way to deal with their problems. The issues then ‘build up’ to the point where they feel like they are going to explode. Young people who self-harm often talk about the ‘release’ that they feel after they have self-harmed, as they use it as a mechanism to cope with their problems. A person may self-harm to relieve tension, to try and gain control of the issues that may be concerning them or to punish themselves. Sometimes it is an attempt to commit suicide if the problems are very severe.
Prevalence of Self-Harm in Young People
It has been estimated that 1 in 12 young people in the UK have self-harmed at some point in their lives. And the latest figures show that in the last two years alone ChildLine has seen an increase in counselling sessions of 167% on the issue.
There is also evidence that self-harming is affecting children at a younger age than ever before. In 2011/12, ChildLine reported that self-harm was in the top five concerns for fourteen year olds for the first time. However, in the first six months of 2012/13, this age dropped further appearing for the first time in the top five concerns for thirteen year olds.
Misconceptions and Facts
There are many misconceptions surrounding why young people self-harm. The reality is that:
- Self-harm is not a mental illness, nor is it an attempt to commit suicide.
- It doesn’t just affect girls. Boys self-harm too, but they are much less likely to tell anyone about it.
- We know that young people from all walks of life self-harm, regardless of their social or ethnic background.
- Self-harm is not a fashion fad, nor is it merely ‘attention seeking behaviour’.
- Most importantly, it is not easy for a young person to stop self-harming behaviour.
- Self harm is a very common problem, much common than a lot of people think. Although it is common, a lot of people struggle to deal with it. Recent research shows that at least 1 in 15 young people in Britain have harmed themselves. This amounts to at least 2 young people in every school classroom self harming at the same time. The most common age for self harm is between the ages of 11 and 25. Most people start self harming at around 12 years old but it is increasing among those younger.
- Self harming is usually not for attention. Self harm is a way to release emotions, deal with stress and pressures and to replace mental pain with physical pain. Most people harm themselves because they don’t feel like they have any other options. Self harm provides a temporary relief and a sense of control. Most people self harm due to being bullied at school, stress and worry about work, feeling isolated, divorce, bereavement or pregnancy, experience of abuse, problems with their sexuality, low self-esteem, underlying mental health issues.
- Self harm is not closely linked to suicide. The majority of people who self harm are not trying to kill themselves, but rather trying to cope with difficult situations and feelings. Although many people who do go on to commit suicide have self-harmed in the past, self harming itself does not indicate that a person is attempting to take their own life.
- Self harm can become addicting. Chemicals are released in the body when it is injured. These chemicals make you less sensitive to pain. Self harm mostly becomes addicting as it grows to be a habit that the person begins to rely on in order to function.
- Self harm is not just a phase. In young people, self harm is often blamed as a ‘teenage phase’ that the person will grow out of. However, self harm does not just affect young people. It affects people from all ages and all walks of life. If someone is self harming, then someone is severely bothering them and if left untreated, it can become more aggressive and frequent over time.