Today is self-harm awareness day. Below I’ll lay out some of the facts and figures but before I do, let me make a plea: Self-harm is not someone else’s struggle. It’s not a strange practice for the unhinged. I say that because some seem baffled at self-injury and yet… it’s in us all.
We might not pick up a blade or drink bleach but all of us know what it is to sabotage ourselves. Whether it’s eating that food we know is bad for us, calling that person we know will hurt us, entering that relationship we know is trouble.
Next time you’re late and can’t find your mobile, just monitor the language you use of yourself. “Stupid! Idiot! Why can’t I just..!” What do you call that? I call it self-harm. Of a sort. And we all know what it’s like.
Those who pick up a blade need more urgent help, but all of us can understand. And I hope we’ll take the time to do that because someone you know is suffering. And probably in silence.
Self-harm is often a way for people to cope with and get through difficult emotions or situations and it can be a means of communicating what they cannot put into words or even into thoughts. It may also be a way of releasing painful emotions such as rage, sadness, emptiness, guilt or fear. Since it’s generally a private coping mechanism rather than attention seeking, some people feel ashamed and unable to admit to anyone what they are doing. This is especially true for young people who go to church, or who are Christians.
- Rates of self-harm in the UK have increased over the past decade and are amongst the highest in Europe, with most that harm being young people. Around 25,000 11-25 year-olds are admitted to hospital each year after self-harming.
- Self-cutting is the most common form of self-harm, perhaps affecting as many as one in 15 young people, but it is not the only one. Self-harm is best described as “a wide range of things that people do to themselves in a deliberate and usually hidden way, which are damaging”.
- Self-harm is often a way of coping with painful and difficult feelings and distress. Someone may harm themselves because they feel overwhelmed and don’t know how else to deal with things. It’s usually a very private issue and motivations and methods will differ from one person to another.
- Some forms of self-harm carry a serious risk, but this doesn’t mean someone who self-harms is always intending to cause themselves serious injury.
- Cutting is the most common form of self-injury, but others can include: burning; scalding; stabbing; banging heads and other body parts against walls; hairpulling; biting; breaking bones; jumping from heights or in front of vehicles; and swallowing or inserting objects.
- Self-poisoning is the term used for overdosing with a medicine or medicines or swallowing a poisonous substance. It may also be that someone self-harms by inhaling/sniffing harmful substances. The majority of people who attend Accident & Emergency (A&E) because of self poisoning have taken over-the-counter medication. Others may overdose on medicines that have been prescribed by their doctor, such as antidepressants. A small number of people will take a large amount of an illegal drug or poison themselves with another substance.
The relationship between self-harm and suicide:
Although people who self-harm are not usually trying to commit suicide, they could be at a higher risk of killing themselves, whether it’s intentional or not. Research suggests that the intention to commit suicide is present in up to 15% of those who self-harm.
- Don’t encourage the person to talk in detail, and for a prolonged time about their self harm. This can encourage negative and destructive thoughts. Encourage openness on the fact that they struggle, but do not encourage fascination with the acts involved.
- Know your own limits: Accept that being involved with a young person who self-harms will have an impact on you.With the help of another, work out what level of support you can offer and what support you will need to do this.
- Set, and keep, appropriate boundaries. This can be a long-term issue and appropriate boundaries will help you care better, for longer.
- Jesus understands the person’s weakness and pain as much as He understands your weaknesses and inadequacies. He is there for you both.
Be aware of safeguarding practice in your context:
- If it is a young person under 18, you may need to inform your churches/youth organisation’s/ child protection officer of the young person’s self harm.
- In some situations, you may need to encourage the young person to tell a parent about their self-harming. This is helpful when the young person has a positive relationship with their parent. It is increasingly important the more severe the self harming is.
Encourage the person to:
- Make an appointment with their GP – if they don’t feel able to do this themselves, could you go with them? There may be certain underlying issues surrounding their behaviour, such as anxiety or depression.
- Consider talking to a counsellor about their self-harming and the reasons why they do this. They will need significant help to understand why they are hurting themselves and to stop hurting themselves.
- Include Jesus in their struggle – can they talk to Him about it? Can they let you talk to Him about it with them?
• Fox C and Hawton K , (2004) Deliberate self harm in adolescents – Jessica Kingsley.
• Understanding Self-Harm, ABC Publications
• Cut, Mercy Ministries
• Beyond Cut, Mercy Ministries
• Self-Harm: The Path of Recovery, Kate Middleton & Sara Garvie
• Lifeline: 08088088000
• Childline: 0800 1111
• Christian self-harm helpline
03000 11 12 13 (option 3)