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What is self-harm?
When a child tells you that they have been self-harming it can bring up mixed emotions of shock, fear, guilt and distress. It can be confronting to talk about self-harm and as a result it is not well understood.
Here’s some facts about self-harm:
- There are many different definitions of self-harm – in this article we refer to it as a deliberate act of harm to oneself that is not intended to end one’s life
- Self-harming is also sometimes referred to as self-injury, deliberate self-harm, self-mutilation, or intentional self-harm
- Self-harming is a behaviour and not an illness; it may be a symptom of psychological distress
- Self-harming is different from suicidal behaviour; if a young person is self-harming it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to end their life
- Some young people may display their self-harm by showing their scars in public, but many don’t
- Young people who self-harm may cover the scars in an effort to keep it a secret by wearing long sleeved shirts or long pants even in warm weather
Different types of self-harm
The ways in which a young person self-harms can vary greatly. Here are some examples of different types of self-harming behaviour:
Cutting or scratching
Burning or picking the skin
Banging or punching objects or self
Pulling out hair
Intentional overdose on drugs or medications; self-poisoning
Deliberate risk taking with the intention of injury
Why does somebody self-harm?
The reasons for self-harm are different for each individual so it’s difficult to say for sure why somebody self-harms without asking them directly. Sometimes they themselves may not fully understand why they self-harm. Also, each incident of self-harm may be motivated by a different reason.
Keeping this in mind, here are some possible reasons why a young person may self-harm:
- To escape unbearable distress
- To cope with overwhelming or inexpressible emotions
- To show their distress to others
- To ‘punish’ themselves which can arise from past trauma
- To feel something when they are ‘numb’ inside
- It has become a habit that is difficult to break or it is a compulsive behaviour they feel unable to stop without professional help
- It may be a symptom of an underlying mental health disorder
What can parents do?
If a young person in your life is self-harming there are a number of things that you can do to support them:
You are not alone
There is support out there to help you and your family
- You could encourage the young person in your life to contact Kids Helpline and talk to a counsellor if they are ready and comfortable to talk to someone about it.
- You may find talking to somebody outside of the situation helpful. You could try calling Parentline in your State or Territory or discuss your concerns with your doctor.
- You may find more digital services and resources at Head to Health.
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