Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is usually a way of coping with, or expressing overwhelming emotional distress. Self-harm can affect people of all ages and genders, but it is more common amongst young people. People who self-harm as part of coping with a specific problem stop self-hearming once the problem has been resolved. Other people may self harm for years or even decades after initially self harming to cope with a variety of emotional problems they may be faced with. 

What are the signs and symptoms of self-harming? 

People can deliverbatly harm themselves in many ways, including: 

  • Pulling out hair
  • Excessively exercising
  • Deliberately starving themselves
  • Poisening themselves with tablets or chemicals
  • Misuing alcohol or drugs, including overdosing
  • Punching, slapping or hitting themselves
  • Cutting, scratching or burning their skin
  • Persistently interfering with wound healing
  • Deliberately starving themselves
  • Piercing the skin with sharp objects

The signs of self-harm include: 

  • Becoming very withdrawn and not speaking to others
  • Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps
  • Self-loathing and expressing a wish to punish themselves
  • Signs of depression, tearfulness or lack of motivation or interest in anything
  • Keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
  • Signs of low self-esteem, blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they’re not good enough
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on wrists, arms, thighs or chest

What can employers do if they are concerned an employee is self-harming or they find them self-harming? 

Somebody concerned about an employee or colleague who is self-harming, or have signs of self-harm, should broach the subject sensitively, but they should broach the subject. 

If the person is self-harming or there are obvious signs of self-harm, the first-aid procedure for self-harm should be followed: 

  • Assess the danger and keep yourself safe. Move to a safe place, or remove the danger which has caused their injuries (such as a knife), only if it is safe to do so
  • Do not ignore their injuries or overly focus on them – stay calm
  • Ask if you can provide first aid, if you are able to do so, or ask if you can contact your nearest first aider. If the injuries are severe, call the emergency services on 999
  • Let the person know that you care for them and you are there to help them 
  • Relate to them as a person, not just their condition 
  • Once the person is safe from further harm, provide an opportunity for them to talk about their situation. Apply non-judgemental listening skills and show your compassion 
  • Offer your support by listening to what they say and let them be in control of their decisions
  • Assist the person to obtain professional support if they would like you to. Or, contact a close friend or family member who they can trust in this situation 

How does somebody who self-harms get treated? 

If the person’s physical injuries are not of a serious nature, the first point of call should be there GP. They can assess any previous injuries and scars and recommend further assessments with a specialist. 

GP’s will also ask questions to see if the person has underlying medical conditions, such as depression or anxiety, and treat accordingly. If the person’s physical injuries do require treatment in hospital, they will receive the necessary medical treatment and then be referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment before leaving hospital. 

Following assessment, any further treatment will usually be jointly decided between the person who self-harms and the healthcare professionals. It will be a specific programme for the individual, according to their needs. 

In most cases, therapy will be recommended for people who self harm, such as CBT. If the person also has mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, their treatment plan may also involve medication, such as antidepressants. Other recommendations may include specialist treatment for scars, attending peer support groups and self-help techniques. 

Signposting for Self-Harm

Self-Injury Support – offers support and advice to anybody who uses ‘self-injury’ as a way of coping. 0808 800 8088

Harmless a user-led organisation that provides a range of services about self-harm and suicide prevention. 

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