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What is self harm?

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

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

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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.

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.

Information on self harm

Below you can find factsheets with more information on self harm:

Self harm information

If you are self harming

Supporting someone who is engaging in self harms

Why do people self harm?

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.

Here are some more reasons why a person might self harm:

  • 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.

Learn more about why people self harm.

What sort of person self harms?

It’s a problem that affects people of all ages from all generations and all genders. However, many people who self harm start self harming in their early teenage years.

Getting help for self harm

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.

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. The best place to start might be visiting your GP to talk about your mental health, and they can refer you to a service.

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.

The most important thing to do is tell someone you trust about the self harm and how you are feeling, whether that's a family member, friend, teacher, college counsellor or your doctor. 

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Published Decem­ber 20th2012
Last updated July 31st2018
Tags self harm mental health depression
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