Self-harm is quite common in Australia, with research indicating about 1% of Australians have self-harmed in the past month and approximately 8% have self-harmed at least once in their lifetime.
Why do people self-harm?
Individuals may self-harm for a variety of reasons but often they are not intending to die.
Those who self-harm often do so
· As a way of managing emotions.
· To cope with stress.
· To reduce anger/anxiety.
· To ‘feel’ something, if feeling numb.
· To get help.
· To punish oneself.
The most common form of self-harm is ‘cutting’ of the skin, other forms also include:
· Burning, slapping or hitting oneself.
· Persistent scratching/picking wounds to prevent them from healing.
· Overdosing on medications.
Who’s at risk?
Teenagers are often at higher risk of self-harming, in particular those who:
· Victims of bullying.
· Have experienced a recent loss (death, break-ups).
· Excessive substance use/addictive behaviours.
It is common for family members and friends to assume self-harm is simply a failed suicide attempt or that the individual does want to die; usually this is not the case. People who self-harm usually do so in order to feel better, not to die.
What to do if someone you know is self-harming?
Firstly, try not to panic. If the self-harm is life threatening or the person is at risk, then call emergency services.
However if not, try and engage the person in conversation about what’s going on for them and why they’re self-harming. The individual may not be willing to open up and discuss this though, especially if they’re a teen. Self-harm can be addictive and become a habit, so it can take time to change this behavior. Remain supportive, open and of course encourage the individual to seek professional support. Don’t demand they simply stop the behavior.