A definition of self harm is difficult to achieve because of the range and intensity of behaviours that can be labelled as both detrimental to an individual’s wellbeing and self inflicted.
Self harming behaviour may include:
There are a variety of other risk taking behaviours which may also be, but are not necessarily, self harming:
What is self harm
Our definition is in line with self harm as a symptom or a coping mechanism which often masks underlying emotional and psychological trauma.
Who is at risk?
It is difficult to establish a true picture of the extent of self harming behaviours among people because much of it remains hidden. Research findings about prevalence vary from 1 in 5 among 15-17 year old girls (The Priory, 2005); to 1 in 10 young people self harming at some point in their teenage years (The Samaritans, 2006). Definitions of self harm and research methods vary, making interpretation difficult. The review of available findings (The Truth Hurts) concluded that a representative finding is probably that about 1 in 15 young people self harm. Moreover, the study found that the average age of onset among 11 to 25 year olds is 12 years old. However, the picture for adults is even more blurred with few studies in non-clinical populations.
Most of these studies are UK based. Some research carried out in Scotland (O’Connor et. al. 2009) suggests that there is a distinct gender pattern in self harm with females being more likely to self harm than males. This study points to a similar prevalence among 15-16 year's old, one in ten young women stated that they had self harmed at some point in their lives.
There are also some identified vulnerable ‘at risk’ groups. These include:
v Young people in residential settings
v Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
v Young Asian women
v Young people with learning disabilities
Why do people self harm
It is important to recognise that we all have strategies for dealing with stress. These may be more or less effective depending on the extent to which we engage in them and the impact they have on our lives. People who self harm are not always able to make the connection between their self harming behaviour and its underlying ‘causes’. Nor may they be able to indentify ‘triggers’. Some people relate their behaviour to traumatic life experiences and some do not.
Self harm arises as the result of a complex combination of experiences. Some of the factors identified by current research include:
It is widely accepted that self harm is a response to profound emotional pain that cannot be resolved in another way. The self harm is often a way of releasing feelings of self hatred, anger, sadness and depression. Self harm can alter the person’s state of mind and so give them some respite from their troubles.
For more information download our free booklet Hurting to heal
In 2011 I set up HarmLESS Psychotherapy as a Social Enterprise to raise awareness about the issues affecting people who self-harm and/or may be at risk of suicide. I provide training and psychotherapy to ensure that I can offer free training and free support to those in most need who do not have the financial resources to access other forms of support.
A society conducive to health and well-being. A world where citizens play an active and fullfilling role, regardless of their personal circumstances, in helping communities and individuals to reduce the need to resort to self-harming behaviours to cope with everyday life.
Reducing the number of people who need to resort to self-harming behaviours and enable a healthier and richer life experience for people in Scotland.
Maria Naranjo is fully qualified as Psychotherapist by Malaga University (Spain). She is a Chartered Psychologist registered with Colegio de Psicologos de Andalucia Oriental (British Psychological Society (BPS) equivalent in Spain). She is also registered with BPS as Graduate and with COSCA as Associate. Maria holds a Postgraduate Teaching Qualification and has trained as a trainer with EVOC (Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council). She is an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) trainer. Person Centered Therapy principles underpin her therapeutic approach. She has trained extensively in Person Centered Planning has completed Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki at Practitioner level (Lendrick Lodge). Maria is also a WRAP (Wellness and Recovery Action Plan) facilitator.
Maria has been working with people who self harm for almost a decade. In her previous job for a National Charity she worked as Self Harm Co-ordinator and gained valuable experience and knowledge of the issues affecting people who engage on self harming behaviour and those who look after them, professionally or personally. Furthermore, she has provided managerial, developmental and strategic support to several projects. Hence Maria has worked wish issues such as secondary trauma, staff burnout, challenges to established policy and procedures, and risk assessments/management.
Maria has been delivering training for the best part of nine years to professionals of all backgrounds and also families affected by self harm.
Maria adheres to the Code of Conduct as set out by the British Psychological Society, COSCA (Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland) and COPAO (Colegio Oficial de Psicologos de Andalucia Oriental).
Full credentials are available on request.
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April 18, 2013 — Inner Vision: A game where you have to prevent suicide
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