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De-stigmatising self-harm and a new website resource for young people

I’m proud today to be promoting the official launch of a project coordinated and directed by a good friend of mine:

www.selfharm.co.uk is a lottery-funded resource for young people and their families affected by self-harm and self-injury providing comprehensive information, support and a safe space to express feelings and stories surrounding self-harm issues. The project takes a firm pro-recovery approach while still allowing young people to be honest about the realities of their experiences of self-harm.

We’re talking about a  HUGE number of young people here, with as many as 25% of girl and 12% of boys in the UK said to self-harm before the age of 14 – considered the highest recorded rates in Europe. As parents this makes knowing about self-harm seriously important. And yet, despite the high prevalence, self-harm remains something that many people find difficult to talk about, shrouded in stigma and secrecy.

Self-harm is classed as causing deliberate harm to your body, including cutting, which is what most people think of when they think of self-harm, but also burning, deliberately bruising, hair pulling, as well as over/under eating, binge drinking and drug use. Often it can stem from feelings of anger, depression or anxiety, or from feelings of low self-esteem as a form of self-punishment – an inner, overwhelming feeling that manifests as a physical need to hurt to yourself and that may provide a temporary release from those feelings. You may not even know why you do it. It’s not about attention, in fact the vast majority of people that self-harm do so in absolute secrecy, and although sometimes associated with mental health problems, on its own is not necessarily an indication of mental illness, but one of emotional distress.

For some self-harmers, this may be a relatively short episode that passes, but the danger is, that without proper support, that behaviours like this can spiral into a destructive and pervasive part of somebody’s life that may continue well into adulthood.

It’s an issue very close to my heart, not because I myself have self-harmed, but because SO many of the people closest to me HAVE. I can relate to those feelings of low self-worth, of not being good enough, or feeling like I was failing in some way, that many people who self-harm talk about – I’m sure many, many of us can relate in that sense.

When I mentioned I was writing this blog post on Twitter last night, I was amazed how many people got in touch to offer stories, or just to put their hands up in private to say “yes, that’s me. I self-harmed, or did do”. One woman talked very eloquently and matter-of-factly about her self-harm as something that only happens occasionally, deliberately hitting or bruising herself when she’s tired or very stressed, as a way of dealing with a sense of intense self-hate that arises when things go wrong, or as a way of giving herself a moment of release, helping her feel like she can breathe again when the pressure gets too much. She doesn’t view it as a serious problem and talks of it as something within her control, a tool to make herself feel better.

For others, more serious self-harm became something that spiralled into a problem that became far more dangerous – eating disorders and cutting that needed professional involvement. Getting better happened once they were treated with some dignity and their self-harm recognised and respected as part of how they coped – changing those coping mechanisms then became a positive, self-realised process, facilitated by support as opposed to ‘treatment’ that left them feeling  judged.

Rachel herself, directer of www.selfharm.co.uk, self-harmed for over ten years before her recovery. Her story, featured on This Morning on Tuesday is inspirational and well worth a watch.

The message of Rachel’s interview, and of the selfharm.co.uk is clear and strong. If you self-harm you are NOT alone, changing behaviours is always possible, and support and advice is available.

If you are or know a young person affected by self-harm, or you are a parent or teacher worried about young people in your care, or an adult for whom self-harm is or has been an issue, then please have a look at the website and share details of it with your networks.

Many thanks, and please feel free to leave comments anonymously if you’ like to share your experiences here.

(images courtesy of www.selfharm.co.uk)


20 Comments

  1. An awesome, awesome project :)

  2. It’s funny how things seem to appear at the right moment. I was talking to my friend about this issue 2 nights ago and now here it is being written about. I shall forward the link onto her.

    Thank you for raising this topic and highlighting this new organisation.

    Mollyxxx

  3. What a great resource for young people, thanks for raising awareness Josie. Seeing as I consider myself to have an eating disorder, I suppose I self-harm. Have never thought of it in those terms before.

    I have a friend with a daughter who is anorexic and 10, I will pass this link along to her.

    Thanks, Mich x

  4. I worry about my geekyboy, as I see him bite or pinch himself when he is mad or frustrated. He has a personality that turns inwards my daughter bites and pinches other people! Which may be the healthier option!

  5. Thanks for posting on this Josie, I think that it is a really important subject. I know that there are a lot of people out there who want to be able to help but don't know how and this organisation is going to be able to help that.

  6. Really important website, thanks for sharing it. I self-harmed for years as a teen and on very stressful occasions still do. I found the online resources invaluable in dealing with it, the support and non-judgment from people who understood made such a change from the "professionals".

  7. Josie – Thank you for writing this on behalf of both the organisation and myself. It has been a truly overwhelming week – I am astounded by the response the website and ITV interview has had. It's going to take several days of sleeping and reflecting to absorb it all. I can't wait for the next chapter – this is only the beginning for selfharm.co.uk x x x
    ps. See you soon!! x x

  8. Its great to hear about this new site Josie; thanks for a really informative post. This is a subject that's close to my heart as it affects many of the young people I work with. You might be interested to see my posts about self-harm – one from the archive (http://brighterfuturescounselling.typepad.com/blog/2010/06/counsellors-casebook-young-people-who-selfharm.html) and one from 1st March highlighting Self-Injury Awareness Day (http://brighterfuturescounselling.typepad.com/blog/2011/03/self-injury-awareness-day-1-march-2011.html) Best wishes, Frances x

  9. lifeslightlyused

    Yes, many young people but more adults than you realise.
    Unfortunately all the help I've recieved has been of the "draw on your arm with a pen instead" "try an elastic band" "go for a walk" or alternatively the wonderfully un helpful "we don't talk about that here".
    Needless to say if my parents had actually gotten me help when I started at age 18 it may have stopped.
    But it hasn't and I don't have anything to replace it with – yes, it helps with all the things above but it is also something you can fix when life is impossible to do anything about and a very good way of showing what is happening on the inside on the outside.
    Its horrible. But hey, keeps me alive.
    Thank you for writing about this. Wish we had more information and sites like this in Australia. Or just that more people got it.

  10. lifeslightlyused

    oh lord – feel free to edit or remove if you so desire oversharing overload :s

  11. janeblackmore

    Cracking post Josie, close to my heart

  12. marketingtomilk

    U know I never would have thought this was me but uve made me think. I had a few episodes with a razor blade as a young teenager and I most def have felt that overwhelming physical need for release during the depths of despair. Very thought provoking. It is not “them” and “us”.

    M2M x

  13. Anni Cameron

    @lifelightlyused – sometimes it just needs you to find the right distraction technique for you (elastic bands work for me and give me something to fiddle with when I'm stressed too which often diverts me from heading all the way over to needing to hurt but that doesn't mean they will work for everyone) but mostly you need to find someone who will support you through the really hard bit of telling yourself that you are taking control of this issue. it is hugely difficult, especially if you have carried this habit a long time, but you can do it. Don't wait until the inside is fixed before you try to fix the outward signs, even if you start by just agreeing limits with yourself on the extent and duration of a self harm episode. I know that sounds blunt, maybe even harsh but please, take my word for this, as a long time self harmer, you need to take back control, one step at a time. I did it, you can do it.

    • lifeslightlyused

      thank you – blunt is good. I just get so stuck (cycles, patterns blah blah) but yes, need the support and need the advice :)

  14. That you for bring this to light. I have never had any experience of this and no one I know has ever self harmed but it sounds like something that needs more awareness. Interesting read. x

  15. I've blogged about my experience and shared the site details. http://insidethewendyhouse.blogspot.com/2011/03/s

  16. What a great site this is for people, one of my friends at school lost her sister to eating disorders when we were 12 and she self harmed a lot, an awful lot and was hospitalised a few times. It was very distressing to see, but really opened our eyes about it. I think if this site had been around then maybe she would have got some extra help that she possibly needed! xxx

  17. Thank you for another beautifully written post on such a sensitive topic and what a wonderful new resource this is. My best friend self-harmed from the age of around 13, we were just two young girls alone with this problem with neither of us knowing what to do and not feeling able to talk to anyone.

    My heart would be in my mouth every morning walking to meet her to catch the school bus. I would know if she had done it again because she would have her sleeves pulled right down over her hands. We would just hug each other and cry. Heaven knows what people thought but they certainly didn't stop to ask why we were so distressed! I never knew what I could do to help her and it's great to know that now people have somewhere to go to share and to ask their questions.

  18. Metropolitan Mum

    Someone very close to me self-harmed herself for more than half of her life. And it's only now that she developed an eating disorder on top of it that she seeks help. Because where she is from, self-harming is not seen as a problem. Actually, it is rather overseen.
    Great that there a people who care and set up projects like this.

  19. Morganderek69

    even though I’m older than your normal readership & have self-harmed for well over 10 years your page contains some very sensible & useful comments. well Done & Thank-you

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