Self harm is a physical way

Self harm is a physical way...

..of trying to deal
with very strong emotional responses.

And those emotional responses might
arise from a variety of experiences.

(young woman)
I didn't really feel like I fitted in.

I felt like a misfit.

I felt like I was never good enough.

I was a bit of a perfectionist,
so I was doing really well at school...

..but I didn't feel OK in myself.

And to try and eloquently describe
what I was going through is really hard,

because I'm not sure I had the language
for that when I was 13 years old,

so I just know I was distressed
on a daily basis.

And so it started and it quickly
became a daily problem for me.

Most people will describe a variety of
things that they will do to self harm.

The most common ones
that people think about

are cutting with, say, a razor blade
or a knife.

Other ones are things like burning,
hitting yourself,

perhaps banging your head
against a wall,

scratching, pinching,

and also possibly taking overdoses,

not necessarily
that are life threatening,

but just taking small amounts of perhaps
paracetamol or other medication.

Self harm was both the release for
some of the emotions that I was feeling,

but it also became a very punitive way
of punishing myself

for how I felt about myself.

I simply didn't like myself.
I didn't like who I was.

I didn't like the way I looked.
I didn't accept anything about myself,

and so harming myself
was a way of punishing myself

as well as releasing the tension
that I felt.

One of the most common things
that people think about self harm

is that people might have been abused
during their childhood,

either physically or sexually.

There are also more common
circumstances

which might lead people to self harm.

So for example, often people
might be brought up in environments

where there's some emotional neglect.

So say, for example, their parents might
have their own emotional difficulties,

so the child may be put in a position
of ignoring their own feelings

in order to take care
of a parent's feelings.

(Caroline) I'd describe my self harm
as crying without the tears,

or anger without the screaming.

It was all of those things to me

when I didn't have the skills
to externalise those feelings.

But self harm gave me that.

It was kind of my pathway
to express myself

or to get out some of that feeling
that was inside.

One of the most important messages

is that there is hope for people
who self harm.

It is a treatable problem.

Obviously you have to consider
the circumstances

in which the self harm behaviour
has arisen.

There's a number of therapies
that can be helpful in treating that

and a number of accessible
community-based resources

that can be a first point of contact.

Mental health services
didn't know how to help me.

I was dangerous to myself and I was
pretty much written off by services

as somebody
who would probably commit suicide.

And so that was really hard
for me to hear

and it just embedded the hopelessness
that I already had.

And it was only when I met people
that believed in me,

believed in the girl I could be
and not the person in front of them

who was totally broken,

that I managed to start
to turn things around.

What I would suggest to somebody who
is self harming is to try and seek help.

There's a variety of places
where you might seek help.

If you have a trusted friend
or perhaps a sibling or a parent

that you could confide in,
that might be a good starting point.

Another good starting point is,
there are a number of websites,

for example, Harmless, where you can
find support in a variety of ways.

For example, they have a chatroom

where you can talk to other people

with similar problems
and similar experiences.

Perhaps think about
trying to look for more formal help,

perhaps through your GP
or, if you're a teenager,

often your local child and adolescent
mental health services

will have a specific service
to help you.

Most people that come to us say,
"I self harm. I have a problem."

We say, "That's not the problem."

"The problem is the emotions
that led you to that place."

And if you start working with the person

and start thinking about the emotions
that are behind the act of harm,

then self harm isn't the problem
any more.

You take the focus and the emphasis
away from the harm

and give people a chance
to relate to themselves

and develop their own emotional language
about what's going on,

and that's a really beneficial process.