Self-harm behavior is an impulsive act of cutting or carving that is associated with premeditative thoughts and negative feelings. Self-harm can also come in different forms such as branding, friction burn, picking at skin or reopening wounds, hitting, bone-breaking, punching, head-banging, drinking harmful chemicals. Any action that a person does which contributes to inflicting harm or pain to themselves, is considered as self-harm.
Self-harm, like many mental health problems, repeat on a cycle, this cycle strengthens and becomes more habitual, over time making it very challenging for the person to break. The self-harm cycle often goes like this - 1. A mental agony, trigger, trauma appears in a more conscious part of the mind as tension and negative feelings began to increase 2. Emotional engulfment turns to fear, depression, and anxiety 3. Panic sets in, the feeling of wanting to reject and escape the negative feeling becomes heightened, thoughts of self-harm develop as a way of ‘relieving the pain’ 4. Self-harm becomes the avoidant behavior and a temporary fix for an unraveling condition 5. Feelings of relief, temporary positivity, a brief moment of contentment emerge 6. The grief reaction begins, causing the person to feel shame and guilt for their actions.
The vicious cycle continues..
Self-harm is often misconstrued as being directly linked with suicide but this is not the case as the two demonstrate some distinct differences. Since suicide and self-harm are inflictions of pain, they often get grouped together under the same subject. Although it sometimes is true that individuals who engage in self-harm may later commit suicide, generally individuals who engage in self-harm do not wish to end their life but, rather engage in self-harm as a way to cope with their life. Individuals who attempt suicide do so with the intent to end their life due to their suffering.
Intent is the most significant difference between self-harm and suicide. Suicide is considered the only way for an individual to end the severe emotional distress and or mental health disorder they experience. Mental health disorders and the mental wellbeing of an individual play a big part in both self-harm and suicide. Suicide and suicide attempts come from a place of hopelessness and despair. This is different from those who self-harm as self-harming is their way of coping with their emotional distress and stressors. For many the feelings experienced by those who self-harm remind the person that they are alive and produces adrenaline which masks their feelings of numbness or disconnect from the world. The physical act of cutting or burning induces pain receptors in the body that triggers the brain to feel an adrenaline “rush” which can easily become addictive and highly dangerous.
If you are a parent or a caregiver who has found out that a child is self-harming it is understandable that you may feel overwhelmed, distressed, and unnerved. We fear what we do not understand, and for many self-harm is unknown territory. It is okay to be unsure, it is okay to not understand. The important thing to remember when these findings emerge is that;
1. That child or young person needs patient and attentive adults around them more than ever.
2. You are not expected to know what to do in that instance to make it all better, however, you are expected to try your best to assist and support the young person to recovery as best you can.
3. It is okay to seek help, to venture out, to learn more, to ask questions it is healthy to do this, it is how we learn, grow and recover.
It is important to reach out for support and professional help. People do recover from mental health conditions, they recover from trauma and they go on to inspire others. If you think your child or family member may be self-harming, speak to your GP. They will be able to advise and discuss in more detail in a secure and confidential setting.
GP’s are also able to make appropriate referrals for individuals to receive professional mental health support and signpost to other agencies, charities, or services that can provide additional support.
“A thousand miles starts with a single step”