Self-harming is when people cause themselves physical pain that alters their mood state (how they feel inside). Some people harm themselves because they feel disconnected and isolated from everybody, and hurting themselves is the only way they feel real or connected.
- Self-harming behaviours can include:
- cutting their skin with knives or any sharp object
- burning their skin
- hitting their body with an object or fists (like punching the wall)
- deliberately falling when doing something like extreme sports
- picking at their skin
- swallowing pills or sharp objects
- pulling at their hair (hair pulling can also be a habit).
- Eating disorders, alcohol and drug addiction are other ways that people harm themselves physically and mentally.
Why do people start harming themselves?
- Self-harming can be a way that people deal with feelings of:
- helplessness, despair and low self-esteem
- anger, loneliness, shame and guilt
- not having control over their life
- being 'out of it' – so the only way to feel 'real' is to cause physical pain to themselves.
Some self-harm is related to severe emotional pain. When people have experienced abuse or violence, it often re-appears as emotional pain in later life. Some people have said that:
- When they hurt themselves physically, it helps take away the emotional pain.
- Self-harm makes internal pain visible on the surface. It is showing that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
- Self-harm is a way that people punish themselves for something.
Myths about self harm
One myth is that people who self harm do it for attention. Research suggests that about two thirds of young people who self harm don't even tell anyone, so they can't be looking for attention.
Another myth is that people who self harm do it because they have a mental illness. Some do have a mental illness like depression, but again about two thirds of young people who self harm do not.
What to do if you have a youth who is self-harming?
- Ensure suicide risk has been assessed. When necessary, refer to Child and Youth Mental Health or other counselling services.
- Talk to the youth. Build trust and create a relationship so they can talk to you when things are overwhelming
- Teach other methods of regulating emotions: breathing, mindfulness, exercise, distress tolerance skills
- Create safety plan with the youth and other trusted people in the youth's life