Self Harm


The National Institute for Clinical Excellence describes self harm as
“Intentional self poisoning or injury, irrespective of the apparent purpose of the act ”
NICE 2004

Some forms that self harm can take include:

• Cutting, burning, biting
• Substance abuse
• Head banging and hitting
• Taking personal risks
• Picking and scratching
• Neglecting oneself
• Pulling out hair
• Eating disorders
• Over dosing and self-poisoning
There is no ‘˜typical’ person who self harms. It can be anyone. An individual who self harms can not and should not be stereotyped; they can be of all ages, any sex, sexuality or ethnicity and of different employment status etc.

The UK has one of the highest rates of self harm in Europe at 400 per 100,000 population
Horrocks, J. Self Poisoning and Self Injury in Adults, Clinical Medicine, 2 (6), 509-512 (2002)
Cited in Samaritans information sheet, Self Harm and Suicide March 2005

Each individuals relationship with self harm is complex and will differ. There can be many reasons behind self harm such as childhood abuse, sexual assault, bullying, stress, low self esteem, family breakdown, dysfunctional relationships, mental ill health and financial worries.

Self harm is primarily a coping strategy and can provide a release from emotional distress and enable an individual to regain feelings of control. Self harm can be a form of self punishment for feelings of guilt. It can also be a way to physically express feelings and emotions when individuals struggle to communicate with others. It is therefore important that individuals that self harm are able to express these feelings, thoughts and emotions in other ways whenever possible. It can be difficult to share the reasons behind the self harm with others and to gain the help and support that may be needed.

In the majority of cases self harm is a very private act and individuals can go to great lengths to hide scars and bruises and will often try to address physical injuries themselves rather than seek medical treatment. Whilst some individuals who self harm may have suicidal feelings, those feelings are likely to originate from the experiences and traumas behind their self harm rather than being influenced by self harm itself.