Self harm as a coping strategy?
Why do young people self harm?
This is such a complex question, and there are many possible reasons. So often, the best way to understand why someone is using self harm as a coping strategy is to explore the causes of distress. Often people harm themselves as a way of dealing with emotions that otherwise would be overwhelming.
The stress factors
Some events can cause extreme feelings of sadness, lack of control, fear or anger, or other emotional responses. These emotions can debilitate an individuals usual coping mechanisms if they become too difficult to manage. Situations that cause distress could be:
- Being bullied
- Depression or Anxiety
- Struggling with schoolwork
- Peer pressures
- Grief or Loss
- Eating disorders
- Abuse or Exploitation
- Feeling lack of control over life
and many other influences….
How to spot the signs?
Often people who use self harm to manage their emotions won’t put things on display for others to see. So it is important to notice the hidden signs:
- Wearing long sleeves in hot weather, an unusual resistance to baring acceptable parts of the skin
- Declining activities which may include removing clothing, such as swimming
- Blood on items or tissues in bedroom /bathroom
- Bite marks, bruises or marks which have no reasonable explanation
- Significant changes in mood or behaviour
- Requesting medical creams or equipment for no obvious injury
- Blood on clothing
- Refusing to participate in social activities / withdrawing
Talking about self harm can reduce feelings of isolation and stigma. The ME Project offers 1:1 as well as group support to provide a safe place for young people to talk.
The Alternative list
The NSPCC offers some good advice, and the young people they support have helped them to put together a list of alternatives to harming:
- paint, draw or scribble in red ink
- hold an ice cube in your hand until it melts
- write down your negative feelings then rip the paper up
- wear an elastic band on your wrist and snap it every time you feel the urge to self-harm
- listen to music
- punching or screaming into a pillow
- talk to friends or family
- take a bath or shower
- watch your favourite funny film
check the NSPCC website here!