Self-harm

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Self-harm is on the increase and is found in young people of any age.

There is no single cause for self-harm but rather than being a cry for help or an attempt at suicide, it is often a way for overwhelming emotions to be released by young people when they can’t express how they’re feeling. Self-harmers often say they can feel the release and actually feel better afterwards. This can often be short-lived, and along with the danger of the act and pain, it is often backed up by other negative emotions like guilt. Unfortunately some self-harming can be copied or learnt, this can be transmitted within friendship groups or by copying from the media.

The harm itself can take many forms: cutting, biting and burning are all common and the cause of the self-harm isn’t always clear and the reasons for such a strong response are often not even understood by the child themselves. There is often a link between depression and self-harm and the self-harmer is often found to be a victim of abuse, bullying or just overwhelming pressure of some kind. They sometimes say they have to punish themselves for some reason.

Things to look for are:

  • Changes in behaviour and withdrawl

The physical effects, which they may seek to hide:

  • Bruises
  • Missing patches of hair – pulled out
  • Cuts
  • Scratches
  • Depression including low self-esteem and self-blame
  • Changes in eating habits; sudden weight loss or gain
  • Risk taking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs

Speaking with a psychologist can help the self-harmer to understand the root cause of their trouble. Strategies can be put in place to help them deal with the stress of their situation without leading to this extreme behaviour.

To the uninitiated, self-harm can seem like an attempt at suicide. The truth is that self-harm is a highly complex issue, and not all people who harm themselves want to die – or even be hurt. Maybe you know why you hurt yourself. Perhaps you’re worried about someone you love. Or maybe you engage in self-
harm but you’re not sure why. Three Seas Counselling can help you explore issues related to self-harm, gain a deeper understanding of why you hurt yourself, and help you put in place the tools you need to stop hurting yourself once and for all. Self-harm is particularly prevalent among teenagers, one in 12 of whom hurt themselves, according to one study.

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is a continuum of behaviors ranging from accidentally harming yourself in reaction to stress to more deliberate harming. At one end of the continuum, for instance, a person might become so upset that she begins scratching her face without even knowing it. At the more severe end, a person might cut her arms or wrists to deal with intense emotional pain. People who harm themselves do not do so intending to commit suicide, though they may also experience suicidal feelings.

Importantly, it’s possible to accidentally develop serious injuries as a result of self-harm, and some people even accidentally kill themselves. Some suicides may actually be self-harm episodes gone awry.

Why Do People Hurt Themselves?

There’s no single reason people engage in self-harm. Many, though, report that it’s an easier way of coping with emotional pain. When the physical pain begins, people who self-harm experience a sort of release of built-up emotional pressure. For this reason, many people who self-harm do so on a cyclical basis.

Some people engage in self-harm because they’ve simply learned that it’s the only way to cope with their feelings. Perhaps a parent, friend, or sibling self-harms, or maybe they saw it on television and it seemed like a good idea. Though self-harm is not itself genetic, the mental health problems that can lead to self-harm are often genetic. Thus a person whose family members experience depression is much more likely to engage in self-harm.

A popular misconception about self-harm is that it’s an attention-seeking, manipulative behavior. People don’t engage in self-harm to manipulate others, and treating them as if they do can exacerbate the behavior, not to mention the painful emotions that underpin it. Self-harm is a misguided attempt to deal with challenging emotions, and stigmatizing those who engage in self-harm will not help them.

What Can I Do to Stop?

If you or someone you love engages in self-harm, the key to kicking this behavior to the curb is to address the emotions that underlie it. It’s not possible to eliminate painful feelings, but counselling can help you find better ways of dealing with these feelings. Your therapist will first help you gain a better understanding of why you harm yourself and what benefits you get from self-harm. After all, you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t get something out of it. From there, you’ll work to uncover safer, healthier coping mechanisms.

If you have an underlying mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, your therapist can also help you manage these conditions without harming yourself. In some cases, you may need to take medication to reduce your symptoms. Three Seas can help you select a prescribing physician and select the perfect medication. We’ll also work with you to determine whether any healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercise, making more friends, or adopting a new hobby, might help you cope more effectively.

Call the Three Seas Psychology Group today to book an appointment for yourself or your child.

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