The issue of self harm is generally surrounded by misconceptions as many struggle to understand what motivates a person to deliberately inflict harm on their own body. Nevertheless this is a coping strategy that some people rely on, and the implications are obvious. While not all self-harmers are suicidal, the suicide risk for those self-harmers that are seen to in hospital is approximately 100 times that of the general public. As reports have emerged of young people engaging in acts of self-harm collectively, it is paramount that attention be brought to the issue of self-harm among teens and adults in order to create awareness of this highly dangerous behaviour that is potentially physically and emotionally addictive.
What is self-harm and why what drives a person to engage in this behaviour?
Self-harm refers to the deliberate act of a person to inflict harm on their own body, and while the harm can take many different forms the most common one is cutting. Other forms of self harm include, but is not limited to; burning, branding, constant picking at the skin and scratching, hitting and in some cases purposely breaking or spraining bones.
Some people that self-harm end up developing a physical addiction to this behaviour, as harming causes the body to produce endorphins, which can produce an adrenaline type rush, akin to that of a drug user. And in much the same way as a person with a substance misuse will need to increase the quantity of the substance over time in order to obtain the same effect, so the physically addicted self-harmer will need to inflict greater injury.
A common misconception surrounding self-harm is the belief that all self-harm is a failed attempt at suicide. In fact, self-harm is often used as a way of avoiding suicide, and therefore speaks loudly of the emotional pain experienced by the sufferer.
Who self harms?
Unfortunately rates of self harm in the UK are among the highest in Europe at 400 per 100.000 per year. According to reports from helpline centres and charity organizations, the group with the highest rates of self-harm are young women aged 15-19 years, with women in all age groups more likely than men to self harm.
Self-harm, like addiction does not discriminate and at Life Works we treat people from all walks of life with the compulsion to self-harm as a way to deal with difficult emotions. Many self-harmers report that self inflicted injury allows difficult emotional pain to be externalized, making the pain more manageable. The desired effect differs from person to person, but many seek a sense of relief, while some self-harm as a form of self-punishment or as a cry for help.
Self-injury is frequently seen in people who are suffering with eating disorders and alcohol abuse and if you or a loved one suffer with issues of self-harm it is vital that you seek treatment. Importantly the severity of the self-injury is not directly proportional with the level of internal distress of the sufferer, which is why treatment is always recommended and highly useful.