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A voice and a choice for our mental health

Understanding self harm

It can be a very lonely place to be in when you’re self harming, but it is more common than you may realise. A lot of people think self harm is either cutting and/or overdosing but a lot of things done in excess could be seen as self harm. Examples of these are: getting drunk, doing drugs, smoking, getting into fights and getting tattoos or piercings. There are also less obvious things such as rubbing skin, digging your nails into yourself or pinching yourself.

If you’re concerned that any of the above applies to you, a friend or family member, please don’t panic! Self harm can be a strategy people use to cope with what’s going on in their life. Self harm is especially common in young people which may be as a result of so much change going on physically / hormonally as well as all other changes young people are having to face.

When young people self harm it is usually a sign that they are having a tough time and need support. There are lots of services in Brighton and Hove that can help (see our Local Support Services page.) Services won’t force you to stop, but they will encourage and support you.

Tips for friends and family:

  • Rather than trying to come up with a solution, it’s more likely that they’ll want you to listen and support them by letting them know it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling. Find more tips in our Communicating page.
  • Focus on what’s causing them to self harm rather than the self harm in itself, unless immediate medical attention is required: 
How are they feeling? What’s going on for them at the moment? Have there been any major changes in their life recently?
  • Trying to force someone to stop self harming can make them feel worse, as it can increase the emotions they’re already trying to cope with and reduce their feeling of control.
  • If they do want to stop self harming, we’ve included some suggestions in our Ideas to Help section.

Why do people self harm?

Everyone has problems during their life, and self harm can affect anyone. Self harm may be used as a coping mechanism, and it is a myth that self harm is always a sign of suicidal behaviour. Some underlying issues can lead to young people harming themselves. We call these triggers, and have listed some below. If you combine any of these triggers with the change that is going on both physically and hormonally for young people, it’s not surprising that it can be a difficult time.

  • Struggling with difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions, or maybe feeling overwhelmed
  • Problems with family, friends or relationships
  • Stress (specifically exams and academic achievement)
  • Abuse (emotional, physical, sexual or neglect)
  • Being bullied (many different types including cyber bullying)
  • Self image issues

When someone is struggling to cope or tell somehow else how they are feeling, self harm can be a way of dealing with – and expressing – difficult feelings. For some people, it can lead to a sense of control or emotional release. Some young people may not understand or know why they self harm, and that’s okay. It’s still important to get help.