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Self Harm

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Self Harm or Self Injury occurs when a person deliberately inflicts physical harm on him or herself. Cutting, burning, biting, punching objects or oneself, pulling out hair or skin, severely scratching skin or poisoning are just some forms of self harm. It is most often used to cope with pain in the person’s life and can be a temporary activity, a reaction to a particular stress or, as is often the case, it can be  prolonged, becoming a compulsion over an extended period. Self harm is not necessarily a suicide attempt and engaging in self harm may not mean that the person wishes to die but….

Self Harm is used to cope with pain, and it can be a risk indicator that a person may feel Suicidal.

What do the statistics tell us?

  • Pieta House has seen a 23% increase in the number of clients presenting with self-harm since 2017
  • The highest rates of self-harm in both males and females in the first six months of 2018 were among adolescents and young adults (NSRF)
  • There were 6,124 self-harm presentations to hospitals in the first half of 2018, representing a 4% increase from 2017 (National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) Interim Report January – June 2018)
  • There was a 21% increase in self-harm in 10-24 year olds between 2007 and 2017 (NSRF)
  • There are twice as many incidences of self-harm in the LGBTI+ community compared to their non-LGBTI+ peers (BeLonG To).


Warning Signs of Self Harm

Most common targets of self injury are arms, legs & torso but any area of the body may be targeted.  Given the secrecy of the behaviour, it can be difficult to spot signs & symptoms of self harm in others but look out for:

  • Unexplained scars, fresh cuts, scratches, bruises or broken bones
  • Interfering with wound healing
  • Keeping sharp objects to hand
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps
  • Spending alot of time alone
  • Relationship troubles
  • Emotional instability: low mood, anger, frustration, difficulty sleeping, impulsivity
  • Self loathing and low self esteem; feeling not good enough

Why do people Self Harm?

Self harm may be used as a way to cope with negative experiences or situations and the pain or strong feelings associated with them such as: bereavement, relationship break down, problems with family, school or peer groups; being bullied; experience of abuse or having serious illness or disability that affects self-esteem or the aftermath of a traumatic incident within the family or close group.  It is often associated with a sense of guilt, depression, low self-esteem or self-hatred along with a tendency to isolate oneself from others. Self harm may be used to:

  • Express difficult or hidden feelings
  • Communicate a need for support
  • Prove to others that you are not invisible
  • Provide a feeling of control
  • Bring an immediate but very temporary sense of relief

Self harm is a way of coping with overwhelming & negative emotions & feelings. It can develop into a dangerous, addictive habit.  It can cause permanent damage to the body if nerves are injured and can even result in death.


How to approach someone you are concerned about

If you believe a friend or loved one is self harming, you may initially be shocked & scared. It is important to approach them with care & understanding as they may feel deep shame, guilt, confusion and worry about their behaviour.  Stay calm.  Don’t raise your voice or tell them to stop, as this can cause them to become even more secretive.  Self-Harm is their safety net and they need to have another coping skill to replace this harmful one before they can successfully stop hurting themselves.  Ask them what is going on and how you can help them. They may not feel comfortable talking to you and may not wish to discuss their self harm with you, but you can encourage them to talk with their GP or a counsellor.  They may prefer to call an anonymous helpline as their first step.

Remember, self harm is more prevalent than you might think. Your family GP will have experience with this issue and is well placed to help and can provide an initial evaluation or a referral to a specialist.


How to find HELP & reach out if you’re self-harming 

If you’re hurting yourself or have thoughts of harming yourself, reach out for help. Any form of self injury is a sign that a bigger issue needs to be addressed. Self injury has some addictive qualities, making it hard to overcome alone. Yet you don’t need to be alone. You can find supportive, caring & non-judgemental help. Try to work up the courage to TALK TO SOMEONE YOU TRUST, who can help you take the first steps to successful treatment. It’s likely the person you feel comfortable telling will already be worried about you and will be relieved to have the opportunity to listen & help. If you don’t get a positive response, please don’t give up! Either try again or speak to someone else. If this sounds overwhelming or if you would prefer to talk in confidence to someone who will understand, a first step might be to talk to a Helpline such as Pieta House, Ireland’s Crisis Centre for Suicide & Self-Harm or to visit the UK Website Battlescars.  Pieta provide counselling services for individuals feeling suicidal or who self-harm. An alternative is the Samaritans Helpline. Samaritan volunteers are available to help with any issue related to self harm.

Talk to someone you Trust


Call the Samaritans Helpline Freephone 116 123


Call Pieta House on 1800 247 247

Seeking Professional Help

Simply talking to your GP may help but you may need to talk to a counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Like any relationship, building trust may take time. It is important you find someone you feel comfortable talking to and this may mean seeing several people before finding the one you “click” with. If there is a family member you feel comfortable telling, it may be helpful to have their support in finding the right counsellor for you.

In cases of severe self injury, call 999 or go to A & E immediately.

Coping without harming yourself

As well as support from a friend, family member and/or health professional, it may also be necessary to create a list of distraction techniques and/or alternative coping strategies for managing your emotions. To learn more about techniques & coping strategies please see Pieta House’s website.

Support for Parents & Carers

  • Battle Scars UK based survivor-led self harm charity whose website is filled with useful insights & practical information, online resources & tools for people who self-harm or for those who work with or support others.  If you need help understanding self-harm, Battle Scars Website is a very useful place to start.  Started as a community group their Facebook Page @battlescarsselfharm is a moderated support group open also to those outside of the UK.
  • Pieta House provide counselling support for people who self harm.  See Pieta House’s website.

3Ts Self Harm Booklet (Download)

3Ts Self Help Booklet on Self Harm is free to download here and contains valuable information for anyone concerned about Self Harm, sign-posting to professional help and introducing self help techniques & coping strategies which can be used to take the first steps to recovery. This is a valuable resource for anyone engaging in Self Harm or for those concerned for another.

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