Yesterday was World Mental Health day. It is something some of us have never experienced. Some have either had friends or family suffer from mental illness, and possibly even lost someone they loved because of it. Some suffer from mental illnesses, and have either thought about or tried to commit suicide. When I was younger, I used to self-harm a lot. It is something that I feel still is misunderstood greatly. I’m hoping by speaking out, this may help someone understand what they are feeling, or what someone they know if going through and realise that they are not alone.
Self-Harm, what it is, what people can do to hurt themselves, what the signs are.
Self-harm is when someone hurts them self on purpose, for a variety of reasons. It is normally a coping mechanism, a way to punish themselves or an outlet for emotional pain/trauma they are experiencing. It is sometimes a cry for help, but they do not normally self-harm because they want to die (but they can have feelings of wanting to die, and may possibly self-harm a lot before they try to die by suicide.)
There are many different ways someone can hurt themselves on purpose. These include
- cutting themselves
- burning themselves
- hair pulling
- scratching themselves
- taking excessive tablets/ drinking toxic chemicals
- drinking a lot of alcohol
- starving themselves
- hitting themselves
but self-harm can manifest itself in many different ways. Many self-harmers tend to be secretive, so you may not see the signs of someone hurting them self straight away.
However, there are ways to spot that someone is hurting themselves. If you think someone is, they may show signs of
- wearing long sleeves/ jeans no matter what the weather is like
- unexplained injuries: bruises, burns, cuts in unusual places
- low mood
- feeling anxious and/or tearful
- being withdrawn, quiet and being not as talkative
There are many more signs to look out for. There are also a number of helpful services that can help you, if you are struggling, or to support you if you know someone who is struggling. Please check out
for more information about self-harm, what to do and services that can help.
“I think my friend/ family member is self-harming, what can I do?”
I just want to say, that I am not professionally trained. Any advice/ possible help I’ve posted here is what had helped me when I was self-harming. I’ve also posted what was said to me that didn’t help me at all, sometimes hurt and hindered me. Please remember, that my experiences will not be the same as someone else’s experience. Everyone goes through and experiences things differently. Just because someone may not behaved in the way I did, it is not to say that their battle is any less valid, or real.
If you do think that someone you know is self-harming, the first thing you can do is talk to them. Be kind, be compassionate and most importantly, listen to them. Try to be reasonable with them. Don’t push them into talking to you if they won’t open up, don’t get angry with them. Tell them that you are worried, you care and that you are there for them. They might come to you, but knowing that there is someone who is looking out for you can be a massive relief, and make you feel less alone.
If that person does open up to you, listen properly to what they have to say, and try to comprehend how they are feeling. There is nothing more frustrating that opening up to someone, to find that they haven’t listened to a word you said, or not tried to understand how you are feeling. Don’t try to make them show you any injuries they may have, it’s a big step to just tell someone. Don’t tell them that they are stupid or attention seeking. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT TELL THEM THAT IF THEY LOVED YOU, THEY WOULDN’T DO IT. That is the worse thing you could say to someone who is self-harming. We often are punishing ourselves for something, and already feel incredibly guilty over what the discovery of this would to do the ones we love. Just reaffirm your love for them, how much you care for them, and if they do let you in, look after them. Hug them tightly.
The person that is self-harming may ask you not to tell anyone and this is a really difficult thing to be asked of. If you tell someone, you can break that person’s trust, causing them to withdraw even more into themselves. But if you don’t, they can possibly hurt themselves more, and end up seriously hurting themselves. I will say this: go with your gut instinct. If you are sure that they are as okay as they can possibly be, and not in a position where they would purposely hurt themselves badly to risk their life or put themselves in a dangerous situation, hold off going straight to their parent’s or another friend to tell them. As I have mentioned, doing this can cause them to withdraw more into themselves, or cut you out of their life without a second thought. I done this to a friend who went and told my Mum, when I wasn’t in any immediate danger, or at a point where I was going to cause myself some serious damage. I had felt so betrayed and hurt, and I feel that it made things worse for me in the long run. If you feel you need to speak to someone, speak to a school nurse if you are still at school. Speak to organisations online, or friends online. There are plenty of support systems for you to speak to someone and get advice on how to support someone who is hurting themselves, and how to make sure you look after yourself as well. It’s a difficult thing to be told, so you need to make sure that you don’t neglect yourself when trying to look out for someone.
If you feel like they are in a place where they are going to seriously hurt themselves/ endanger their life, tell someone that they trust. A parent, sibling, partner, it doesn’t matter as long as it is someone that the self-harmer trusts. In extreme cases, where you are worried that they may of hurt themselves badly, either on purpose or accidentally, or taken it a step further, call the police and ambulance services. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Parents, I can imagine that it feels like your world has flipped upside down if you discover that your child is self-harming. Your instinct is going to be to wrap your child up in cotton wool, and be incredibly over-protective. Try to talk to them if they haven’t come and spoken to you. Go to their GP or speak to their school about counselling sessions. They may not want to speak to you because they feel guilty, scared, maybe even ashamed, so speaking to someone that they don’t know may help them a lot. I know it certainly did for me. It’s difficult, but self-harmers can be super sensitive, and may be pushed into covering their tracks and their habits even more carefully if they feel smothered, or if they feel that people are behaving in a over-protective manner.
Most importantly, take it seriously. It may be a cry for help, hinting at troubles they cannot express, but do not write it off as a ‘joke’ or attention seeking. That person is struggling, to be pushed to a point where hurting themselves is the only outlet. Felling like they are not being taken seriously could push them over the edge.
My Story (possible triggers, please be warned)
When I was 13, I experienced something that changed me (I won’t go into it on this blog) but it is something that made me learn of true fear, and realise that not everyone that appears to be a friend, is a friend. I coped with the trauma of what I had experienced for a few months, but slowly everything just built up and about 6 months later, I had started hurting myself. It started off with little scratches/ cuts on the side of my hands, and then progressed into cutting my arms and my legs. At the time, I hadn’t even realised what I was doing is classed as self harm. My Mum had noticed these cuts on the sides of my hands, and had tried to explain that she had seen cuts like these on people who are sick. I was so unaware of mental illness, I remember telling her that I wasn’t sick and that I was fine, I had “fell over” (FYI guys, people can see straight through those kind of lies. Just be honest with them.) I remember after that I took more care to hide them. I think it was then I had started cutting my arms, using sweatbands, arm warmers, even a watch once, to hide the cuts. I wasn’t willing to open up to anyone and tell them what had happened to me, and what I was doing to myself to cope with the pain of everything.
Slowly over time, I became more dependent on self-harm to survive the internal struggle. I had tried to stop several times, but always returned to old habits. Little scratches became cuts over time, that spread up and down my arms and legs. I started doing the classic wearing jeans in the summer, sweatbands and the like in the summer to hide what I was doing. I put on a front but inside I was scared, sensitive, worried and feeling guilty. I had been caught a few times, sat down with my parents and had talks about it, where I had heard once “if you love us you wouldn’t do this” and I would mumble half-hearted apologies and promises to come and talk and not to do it again.
Struggling to deal with what had happened to me, and being bullied at school for how I looked and then my self-harming, I had started self-harming on a daily basis at first, which then progressed to several times a day. It had become a habit, an addiction that helped me get through the day, to stop me falling apart, to help me survive school. I had started to receive counselling at school after a few of my friends had persuaded me to see the nurse, and get referred to the counselor. He was really good, and had helped me start to learn how to cope with what had happened to me. I don’t think I saw him for every long, but my memory is hazy at parts. I’m sure that I could see what he could do for me recovery wise, but I wasn’t ready to recover and leave behind the very thing that was my comforter.I saw him on and off over the last 3 years at school, and I am grateful for what he did do for me. I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking back I can see that he gave me the foundations to recover when I was ready to do it on my own terms.
I carried on as I was, hurting myself several times a day, sometimes between lessons, always at break times. I was withdrawing into myself, loosing my appetite, becoming quieter than normal, just observing but rarely taking part. I was falling deeper down the rabbit hole, until one day, I had hurt myself badly enough that I scared myself, and actually asked for help. It has been the only time I’ve taken myself to hospital because of something I had done to myself. I remember being terrified the whole time I was there not for me but for what it would do to my parents if they had found out. The staff there had wanted to admit me into a unit, but with a stroke of luck the school nurse was there, who fought for me. She believed that I had been trying to stop (a few weeks ago I had attempted to give it up again) and argued that going into a unit would undo all my progress. She eventually won, and I was free to go home. I have never, ever been more thankful for someone blindly fighting for me.
That incident was the beginning of the end of my relationship with self-harm. A few months later I had my GCSE’s and left school. Leaving behind a place and an environment that I struggled with helped me massively with my recovery. Another thing that had helped me, was being sent by the school to a day out in London to a self-harm thing (I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I do remember Julian Clary was there. Helpful, I know.) I was sent with another girl in my year, someone who had bullied me for self-harming. I discovered on that day that she was also self-harming, and had taken it out on me as she couldn’t process what she was doing to herself. I remember we had talked openly and honestly, and that day we had made peace with each other, and for me, I had peace with a part of myself.
I started hurting myself when I was 13, and was doing it consistently until I was 16. The last time I had done it, I was 17 and really really pissed with myself for doing it. The road to recovery was long, difficult and testing. There were days and times that were really, really difficult to not stray back to old habits and give in. Don’t be to hard on yourself if you are trying to move on and recover. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to realise just how far you come. A relapse isn’t something to beat yourself up about, we all have had relapses when we are trying to break this habit. It took me well over a year to finally let go of the habit that I had been dependent on for 3 years. I had to learn to cope with emotions and situations the way that other people do, and I really struggled with dealing my emotions. Relearning that I am a sensitive soul helped me in parts. I spent a lot of my time recovering counting the days that I had been ‘clean’ and then hurting myself again, to then be really angry with myself to undoing all of my hard work. Every time that you go that extra hour, that extra day, that extra week without hurting yourself, you should be really proud of yourself. It is tough, it may be one of the toughest things you ever have to do for yourself. Believe in yourself, you can do this, you will own and possess a strength you never knew you had. If you are struggling, speak to others or have experienced, or are experiencing the same battles that you are.
Tips for resisting an urge
Here are a few tips that have helped me, or helped others, to overcome a urge to hurt themselves
- writing your feelings down
- rubbing an ice cube over the area you want to cut
- talking to friends
- talking to people in similar situations online
- writing songs or poetry
- scribbling a pen over and over a page until it rips through
- listening to music, in particular angry songs
I hope one of these will help you, you are looking for a way to help distract you. There are so many other ideas online that will help you. You will find the one thing that works for you, sometimes you just have to try things out until you do find the thing that really helps you;
I had hurt myself badly enough to leave scars that would never disappear. There are some that to others, are invisible at first but I know that they are there, existing, a reminder of a darkness I had faced on my own and survived. There are some that I can’t remember doing to myself, and some that I will always remember clearly. There are times I can remember doing it clearly, and there are times when it was just a blur.
I am not expecting everyone to understand. Self-harm is an incredibly complex thing to get your head around, the fact that someone would deliberately hurt themselves is so confusing. It is difficult for those of us that have done to, to see either fresh wounds or old scars on someone else, to realise that someone has once hurt or is hurting as much as we once did. Don’t stare at someone who has scars from self-harm. It may of taken them a lot of guts to not hide them away.
Self-harm scars are not romantic, They are not pretty. They are not things that our lovers kiss tenderly. They are things that complete strangers feel that they have the right to judge you for, and comment on. They feel like they have the right to touch them, because you were brave enough to not hide them, and ask you how you “got them”or why you done it, to then get angry or upset when you choose not to disclose that information. Try not to project your own confusion and anger back onto that person who has self-harmed. Try to talk in a reasonable manner, open your mind and not to judge them.
Suicide attempts and self-harm among teenagers are on the rise. Living in a time when this is happening, we need to look out for each other more, and show some more compassion and understanding.
Love and light,