Self harm is a behaviour displayed by young people to cope with emotional distress or to communicate that they are distressed. Self harm is most common in adolescence – when the brain undergoes a period of huge change and hormonal development, which affects the ability of a young person to self-regulate emotional behaviour. This is sometimes misunderstood by professionals, who feel it is attention seeking behaviour and as a result, this can make young people reluctant to seek help.
Self harm can manifest itself in many different ways, from: cutting, burning, picking at skin, hair-pulling, hitting hard objects, drinking harmful substances and risk- taking behaviour. There are not always noticeable signs and many self harmers do not want others to see evidence of their actions and will find it hard to talk about their feelings.
There are many reasons why young people report for their self harm. For some it is to relieve stress and for others a means to regain control over negative feelings, or indeed, a lack of feelings for anything at the time. Also, low self-esteem, bullying, traumatic experiences, pressure at school and general feelings of hopelessness. Young people can feel genuine reductions in tensions and low mood, so self-harm can easily become self-reinforcing and habit forming and it can consequently be hard for young people to un-learn these behaviours.
Care givers and other professionals will need to be conscious of a range of possible warning signs of self harm. Unexplained accidents or injuries in unusual places may suggest deliberate acts of self harm, as well as young people keeping the area of injury covered, particularly in hot weather. Young people will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid situations where clothing may expose an injury and this can sometimes manifest itself in the avoidance of school PE lessons. Young people will often hide sharp objects in their belongings – sometimes very ordinary and every day objects with sharp edges, but also items like pencil sharpeners or razor blades. Young people who self-harm may also show changes in socialising, sleeping and eating patterns, as well as show low self-esteem, isolation and irritability. They may also become withdrawn from and lose interest in, activities they used to enjoy and engage with successfully.
Delegates attending a 2-day Youth Mental Health First Aid Course, with Head First Ltd, will look closely at self-harming and consider the signs and symptoms, risk factors, warning signs and recommended Mental Health First Aid approaches. In addition, the course manual (included for all delegates to take away after the course) contains many helpful resources, publications, organisations and self-help strategies to help a young person with feelings of self-harm.