Self-harm 2: myths & facts…

Self-harm mental health symbol isolated on white

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/kondyukandrey

We know that roughly 1 in 12 young people will engage in self-harm. More than you thought? Me too.

It’s taken me some years to feel I have anything like a handle on the issue. Longer still to feel able to really help.

Like mental health in general, self-harm is beset with myth and misunderstanding. We tend to fear what we don’t understand. We also tend to try and understand; in doing so we make assumptions. Myths develop…

Quick re-cap…

In the first post on self-harm, we established that it’s a big problem. One that many people worry about, particularly young people themselves. It was also clear that many professionals, like teachers and GPs, feel ill-equipped to help.

One place to start improving our understanding, is to know what isn’t true – what the myths are…

Myths about self-harm…

The following are NOT TRUE, they are myths:

  • It’s a teenage girl thing – nope. Self-harm is not limited to a particular gender, age, race or culture. Whilst it seems to be more common among teenagers and young adults, this is not exclusive. Boys, men and older adults of both sexes also self-harm.
  • Self-harm is arm-cutting – yes and no. It can be, but it’s not limited to that. It could also be things like head-banging, hair-pulling and picking at wounds. For information, there’s an excellent schematic of self-harm types, here.
  • Self-harm is really attempted suicide – that’ll be a “no.” It’s a way of coping. Sometimes it’s about alleviating emotional numbness, so the person can actually feel something. For others it might be a release of emotional distress or pressure. For others, it’s something else. Far from being about suicide, self-harm is more about coping and staying alive.
  • It’s a form of manipulation – when someone is distressed, feels desperate and out of control, they may make threats to harm themselves or blame others for their self-harming behaviour. This can seem manipulative. But it’s not. It’s a feature of how bad they feel. It says they need help and support. The first step to offering this, is to avoid seeing it as manipulative and look for ways to offer support.
  • It’s a mental illness – no, again. Whilst self-harming behaviour is often fuelled by psychological distress, in that it is a way of coping with overwhelming feelings, it is NOT a diagnosis or mental disorder.

(Adapted from LifeSigns – Source)

I hope you recognise some of these myths around self-harm. Like most people, I’ve had to learn that much of what I thought was true, wasn’t. There’s no shame in that, as long as we continually strive to understand and to help.

Clearly this list is far from exhaustive. For a fuller list, check out the LifeSigns self-injury myths page, here.

Final thought… 

For someone to wilfully harm themselves, they must be suffering. Does there really need to be a reason to do it? May be we should shift our gaze from understanding why, and look for wisdom about what we can do to help… That’ll be the focus of the next post on self-harm…

Where to go for advice, help, information and support…

What do you think?

  • What lessons have you learned about self-harm?
  • Have you come across useful information or resources to help?

Please let me know what your thoughts are… Leave a comment below or click here.

Related post…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013

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