In light of the recent increase in children's hospital admissions for intentional self-harm Dr Liz Lawson answers some frequently asked questions about self-harm.

Why do people self-harm?

There's a common misconception that self-harm is always about attention seeking but in reality there are lots of reasons why people self-harm. Self-harm might communicate an internal distress and act as a way of asking for help, it might be used to punish yourself, to feel in control of a situation or as a distraction from problems in life. We often hear people saying that self-harm gives them a release and we know from research that when we self-harm our body releases endorphins to manage the pain which can temporarily get rid of difficult emotions and leave us feeling calmer. If this is the only way that individuals can regulate their emotions, over time they will often find themselves needing to self-harm more frequently and intensively to calm down.

What are the warning signs to look out for in others?

Look out for changes in mood, irritability and withdrawal. Self-harm is often done in secret but you may notice changes in what somebody is wearing such as avoiding short-sleeved tops even during sport or in warm weather. If you are concerned about somebody self-harming, approach the conversation gently asking them open questions and giving them space to talk. Even though you might feel anxious or angry by what they are saying, try to respond supportively and without judgement. Encourage them to speak to their GP who can make recommendations and referrals. 

How does therapy help with self-harm?

Therapy will start by working with the individual to understand why they are self-harming and what the function of self-harm is for that person. Using this information therapy will be tailored to help the individual develop more helpful ways of coping with difficult emotions, support them to find effective methods for communicating their difficulties directly or working with clients to understand and move away from their self-attacking.

If you need support with self-harm The Tuke Centre may be able to help, but we encourage you to speak with your GP first.

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