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Self Harm Factsheet

WHAT IS SELF HARM AND HOW CAN YOU HELP YOURSELF OR SOMEONE ELSE WHO’ S HARMING THEMSELVES?

Ruth Sutton has worked for 15+ years in women’s mental health, including 5 years in the NHS, contributing to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) UK guidelines for women’s mental health in the UK; she has a particular interest in helping young women find out who they are and how they can negotiate life’s challenges. Ruth’s qualifications include Master NLP Practitioner, Diploma in Cognitive Hypnotherapy, Certified Integrative Counsellor.

Here, Ruth has pulled together an informative factsheet about the difficult subject of self-harm, which she hopes you will find useful.

WHAT IS SELF HARM?

It can be hard to understand why someone hurts themselves in this way, and it’s highly emotive, but self harm is actually a way of expressing and managing difficult emotions. The meaning behind self harm is varied but can be broadly divided into the following 8 categories:
COPING IN A CRISIS

CALMING & COMFORTING

CONTROLLING

CREATING COMFORTABLE NUMBNESS

CONFIRMATION OF EXISTENCE

CLEANSING

CHASTISING SELF
COMMUNICATION

WHAT CAN HELP?

If you’re trying to help someone who is self harming, or if you’re harming yourself, getting an understanding of what’s behind the behaviour can help to begin recovery and form the basis of a harm management and reduction plan.

Listening to the person’s experience non judgementally is the keystone ,or, if you are harming yourself, being kind to yourself and not blaming yourself but accepting that you’re coping in the best way you know how is the starting point . There are also lots of helpful resources listed at the end of this factsheet.

These questions can help you begin to open up a dialogue or understand what’s happening for yourself:
How do you feel before you hurt yourself? How do you feel after you’ve hurt yourself?
What are the situations where you are most likely to want to hurt yourself? What else would be useful to understand about your self-harm?

SELF HARM MANAGEMENT PLAN

As well as getting an understanding of what’s behind the behaviour it’s helpful to have a plan about how to manage urges to self harm, and to have a contact list of people who can help and support you if you’re distressed or thinking about self‑harm. This list could include one or two people you trust, including friends and family members as well as specialist support such as mental health professionals, 24-hour helplines or websites such as The Samaritans, local healthcare support and emergency NHS contact details for out of hours support. You can research what’s available in your area and online and put it in your plan and there are some suggestions at the end of this factsheet. You can find a harm management and resource plan template here.

WHAT CAN HELP IN THE MOMENT?

If you feel like self harming, try to postpone doing it for 5 or 10 minutes, build the time up gradually if that feels like too much at first. People often self harm when their emotions are at a peak, so waiting even a little while allows the strong emotion to fade. During that time you could try some distractions. There are lots of suggestions here. and you could try some of the following techniques depending upon what the intent behind the urge to self harm is.

IF YOU' RE FEELING ANGRY TRY: EXERCISING, HITTING CUSHIONS, SHOUTING, TEARING SOMETHING UP
IF YOU' RE FEELING FRIGHTENED TRY: WRAPPING YOURSELF IN A BLANKET, SPENDING TIME IN NATURE OR WITH AN ANIMAL, LETTING YOURSELF CRY OR SLEEP, TELLING SOMEONE HOW YOU FEEL, BREATHING IN THEN BREATHING OUT SLOW, LONG BREATHS UNTIL YOU FEEL CALMER
IF YOU FEEL YOU WANT CONTROL TRY: WRITING LISTS, TIDYING UP/ DECLUTTERING, WRITING A LETTER EXPRESSING WHAT YOU'RE FEELING THEN TEARING IT UP, TIGHTLY CLENCHING THEN RELAXING ALL YOUR MUSCLES
IF YOU' RE FEELING NUMB AND DISCONNECTED TRY: FLICKING ELASTIC BANDS ON YOUR WRISTS, HOLDING ICE CUBES, SMELLING SOMETHING WITH A STRONG ODOUR, HAVING A VERY COLD SHOWER
IF YOU FEELING SELF HATRED OR SHAME TRY: WRITING A LETTER FROM THE PART OF YOU THAT FEELS THE SELF HATRED OR SHAME, THEN WRITE BACK WITH AS MUCH COMPASSION AND SELF ACCEPTANCE AS YOU CAN, REMIND YOURSELF THAT YOU'RE NOT 'BAD' THERE ARE REASONS YOU FEEL AS YOU DO, FIND CREATIVE WAYS TO EXPRESS YOUR SELF HATRED BY PAINTING, WRITING POEMS OR SONGS, DO PHYSICAL EXERCISE

SELF HELP RESOURCES

Whether you’re harming yourself or helping a friend or family member who’s self harming it’s a good idea to get some professional help.

Quest has a directory of therapists you can contact.

ONLINE FORUMS & HELPLINES

SAFEGUARDING
Self harm is most common in the under 25s and is generally a way of managing intense emotions and not carried out with suicidal intent, however in the over 60’s there is a higher likelihood of suicidal intent. If you have seriously harmed yourself or you’re helping someone who has, the quickest way to get help is to call 999 for an ambulance.