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What is self harm?

Why do people do it and who can they turn to for support?

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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What is self harm?

Self harm is when someone deliberately hurts, cuts or injures themselves. For some people, self harm is  a way of coping with difficult or overwhelming feelings.

Why people self harm:

Many people self harm as a coping mechanism to deal with intense or difficult emotions. You might not know why you or someone else self harms but that's ok. You can work with a mental health professional like a counsellor who can help you figure that out.

Some of the reasons people give for self harming:

  • Self harm is often used to relieve tension or anger. It might also be a way to let out feelings and to deal with sadness, stress, self-hatred or depression. Many people self harm as a coping mechanism to deal with intense and difficult emotions. These feelings are often pushed down and eventually are expressed through causing physical pain.
  • Some people find it easier to cope with physical pain rather than emotional pain.
  • Some people find that self harming relieves anxiety and tension and helps calm them down when they are distressed.
  • Physical injuries are often easier to cope with than the invisible emotional pain
  • Not being able to express your feelings by crying, or as a way of communicating distress to yourself or others when you don’t have the right words.
  • Physical hurt takes your mind away from emotional pain.
  • Self harm may help you deal with past trauma, such as sexual assault, rape or abuse. You may feel happy with your current life now, but feel the need to self harm when you think about past traumas.
  • To deal with anger. Some people are very uncomfortable expressing anger outwardly. So they turn this anger on themselves and self harm instead.
  • Hating yourself and hurting your body in punishment.
  • To help calm yourself. Some people find that self harming relieves anxiety and tension.

Who does self-harm affect?

Getting help:

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide or self harm, you should immediately contact your local doctor or go to the A&E department of the nearest hospital. You can google the location of your nearest hospital or check out the HSE website.
If you self harm it's very important that you seek help and support. It might seem that nobody understands what you're going through or that you are alone, but remember there IS help available. 

You can also attend a service like Pieta House who provide free support to anyone who self harms or is suicidal. They have centres all around the country and work specifically with people who self harm so they will completely understand whatever you tell them.

Who to talk to:

  • The most important thing to do is tell someone about the self harm, and how you are feeling.
  • Talk to someone you trust (perhaps a family member or a friend) and ask them to support you in finding help.
  • Talk to your doctor, a school or college counsellor or support services in the area where you live. Doctors in your area will be listed on the Irish College of General Practitioners website You can ask your doctor to refer you to a counsellor, or contact the Irish Association for Counselling and Therapy. If you are at university or college there is often a free counselling service provided. See Please Talk for information on student support services at all the universities in the Republic of Ireland.

You can find out lots more information about self harm by going to Visit for information on free training in understanding self-harm. You can also contact the HSE Resource Officers for Suicide Prevention for details of training nationwide.


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Published December 20th, 2012
Last updated March 28th, 2017
Tags self harm mental health depression
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