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What is Self-Harm?

The phrase ‘self-harm’ is used to describe a wide range of behaviours. Self-harm is often understood to be a physical response to an emotional pain of some kind, and can be very addictive. Some of the things people do are quite well known, such as cutting, burning or pinching, but there are many, many ways to hurt yourself, including abusing drugs and alcohol or having an eating disorder. Sometimes, it’s more important to focus on how someone is feeling rather than what they do to themselves. Quite often, people find that more helpful.
For more information on Self Harm visit the Young Minds website.

Signs someone might be Self-Harming

Remember that there is no stereotypical person who self-harms. The majority of children & young people go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their self-harm, the following may be signs to be aware of:

  • Always keeping skin covered up, wearing long sleeves in summer
  • Not wanting to go swimming, or avoiding PE and other games activities
  • Cuts, scars, burns or unusual marks on skin
  • Drinking or drug use
  • Recent weight loss, or weight gain

In addition, you may notice

  • Changes in personality
  • Lack of interest in life
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Expressing feelings of self-blame, failure, uselessness, hopelessness or anger

Recommended self-care and management tips?

There are a number of ways to manage self-harm, the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), is a self-designed prevention and wellness process that anyone can use to get well, stay well and make their life the way they want it to be.
WRAP could help you:
  • Discover your own simple, safe Wellness Tools
  • Develop a list of things to do every day to stay as well as possible
  • Identify upsetting events, early warning signs and signs that things have gotten much worse and, using Wellness Tools, develop action plans for responding at these times
  • Guide you through the process of developing a Crisis Plan or Advance Directive
  • Introduce you to Post Crisis Planning for more information on how to make an action plan visit the website.
The Stem4 – CALM HARM app provides tasks that help you resist or manage the urge to self-harm. You can add your own tasks too and it’s completely private and password protected.
The app contains four categories of tasks which target the main reasons people self-harm. Distract helps to combat the urge by learning self-control; Comfort helps to care rather than harm; Express gets those feelings out in a different way and Release provides safe alternatives to self-injury. Available on iPhone, iPad and Android.
Visit the Stem 4 website for more information.
Remember, self-harm is usually a response to a traumatic event, or a way to cope with how you are feeling. It is important to address the underlying issues, as well as manage the act of self-harm, see the ‘Where can you go for help’ section below for information on who can help.

Worried about a friend?

If you are worried a friend may be self-harming consider talking to them about it. Try not to let self-harm become the focus of your discussion but the reasons behind the act. Here are some tips for taking about self-harm:

  • Let them know that their emotions are real and important
  • Remind them of their strengths and abilities
  • Reassure them that you do not think they are a failure whatever their difficulties
  • Explain to them that you want to help but may not know the best thing to do and that you may have to seek support from others
  • Try to come up with a solution together
  • Watch for signs of bullying or abuse that may be triggering self-harm
  • Support them to implement their WRAP (Wellness & Recovery Action Plan) if they have one.
  • Remind them that people care
  • Provide them with a safe space to talk and share their fears & concerns
  • Be honest about having to share information with an appropriate adult
  • Avoid judgmental comments or telling the person to stop self-harming

Where can you go for help?

If you are worried about how you are feeling, or worried about a friend, there are loads of places you can get support and advice. You could talk to a friend, family member or trusted adult, your school nurse or GP. In some circumstances your GP may refer you to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). You can find out more about CAMHS by clicking here.

Alternatively you will find a list of organisations you can contact on the Young Minds website. Remember, it is important not to focus on the self-harm act itself but the reasons behind it – only once these issues are addressed will it be easier to address the self-harming behaviour and implement relevant strategies.

What to do in an emergency.

If you are concerned about a self-harm wound or other serious self-harm act you should seek emergency medical help through your local Accident and Emergency service.Overdoses:

  • Get the person to an emergency department as soon as possible
  • Try to find out what they have taken and tell emergency medical staff
  • If they won’t tell you, look around for empty pill bottles or blister packs
Cuts and Wounds:
  • Apply pressure to bleeding cuts using a bandage or towel (a tea towel may be less
    likely to stick to the wound)
  • If the wound is superficial clean the wound under running tap water and apply a sterile adhesive dressing
  • If the wound has become infected (e.g., swelling, pus forming or spreading
    redness), seek medical help
  • Cool with cold water for 10 minutes or longer if possible, then cover with cling film
  • Don’t use ice or any creams or greasy substances such as butter
For more information on handling wounds and burns, and information about when to see a doctor, visit NHS or call NHS Direct on 111.

Shelf Help

The Shelf Titles are part of a national scheme aimed at improving emotional health and well-being.

The library service can lend you books to support your emotional well-being. The Shelf Help booklist is aimed at young people, and offers advice about issues such as bullying and exams, as well as mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress and OCD. The titles have been chosen and endorsed by professionals. Copies of the titles are available for loan from the Central Library. More details can be found on the library web pages.