Self-harm refers to people deliberately hurting or mutilating their bodies without necessarily wanting to die.
It often begins in teenage years, with around 10% of adolescents reporting having self-harmed at some point in their lives.
People self-harm for a range of reasons, it may be a way of telling other people about distress and asking for help, a way of coping with stress or emotional pain, or a symptom of a mental illness like depression.
But most often the behaviour goes unnoticed. It is commonly done in private and most young people who self-harm don’t get help.
Laura, now 24, struggled with self-harm for nearly 10 years, here she bravely tells her story…
The first time that I cut myself, I don’t remember what I was thinking. It was clear, however, that I had no inkling that this act would become an unrelenting and ingrained response that would begin to take over. I didn’t know that it would become something that I would later turn to at every available opportunity, or that it would lead me to deceive my friends and family, or that it would be something that I would still struggle with nearly 10 years on from that day. All I was looking for was a way to feel a little less awful, and initially, it seemed that I had found what I was looking for.
I was 15, and I was attempting to cope with what I later realised was the earlier stages of a veritable bounty of mental health problems. I was anxious, depressed and I had managed to isolate myself from everyone who cared about me. I discovered that making those marks on my skin brought my feelings from the intangible to the visible.
After all, physical pain seemed so much easier to endure than the seemingly infinite flood of crap feelings that being depressed throws at you. I could look at the lines on my legs and see my hurt reflected back at me, and I could understand this physical pain because it had such an obvious cause and I knew it would fade. Feeling those twinges of pain during the day reminded me that I was alive and surviving, despite feeling like I wanted to disappear.
In an uncharacteristically honest moment, I admitted to a friend what was happening. With her support, I decided to get help. Over the next six months I spent 90 minutes per week just bawling my eyes out in a counsellor’s office and refusing to talk. It was suggested that I try some anti-depressant medication to enable myself to start functioning enough to deal with my feelings, which was somewhat effective. I saw numerous therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists whilst continuing to self-harm regularly. I winced, as the psychiatrist I was seeing described my self-harm as ‘chronic.’