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Self Harm is More Common than Thought

February 28, 2009

Tomorrow is Self Injury Awareness Day and part of awareness is dispelling some mispereceptions of self-harm as a phenomenon. 

First self-harm is more prevalent among young people than you’d think from the amount of attention that it receives. Research shows that 8% of young people self-harm at some point, but given the secretive nature of the activity it is very likely that even this figure is an underestimate.

Second, that the primary motivation is to get attention, to activate caring responses in others. Again the inherent secretive nature of the activity seems to indicate against this presumption. If anything self-harming seems to be a response to the individuals belief that they do not deserve care.

Third, that those who self-harm enjoy the pain. We’ve all heard stories of frustrated A and E staff treating wounds without anaesthetic or failing to prescribe pain killers to cases of self-injury that result in hospital visits. While these cases are probably in the minority, it illustrates the presumption that those who self-harm either want or deserve the pain they endure. Not true.

Fourth, self-harm is not something “other people do”. We all have the potential to self-harm under certain kinds of stress. Many of us have at times drunk too much alcohol, driven recklessly, spent more money than we should, or called ourselves names under our breath – to cope with difficult feelings? Self-harm is not an experience alien to most of us, and we’d do well do be aware of that potential in ourselves.


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