Although around one in 12 young people self-harms, the activity often goes unnoticed. Contrary to the stereotype of self-harming as attention-seeking and acting out, most self-harm takes place very privately and secretly. Sometimes there are clear signs that self-harm might be an issue, while at others there can be little or no evidence at all.
In recognition of the global Self-Injury Awareness Day on 1 March 2009 and to raise awareness of this difficult issue, the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) has identified the key behaviours to look for if you have concerns that someone close to you may be harming themselves.
In general terms, it is important to be aware of how the person is in relation to how they usually are. Look for clues that might indicate someone is struggling or getting depressed, such as:
• Spending unusual amounts of time on their own
• Quieter than usual
• Over-reacting to events they would usually cope with, e.g. deadlines, relationships
• Tearful, anxious or perhaps irritable
• Spending lots of time online in a way that withdraws them from others
• Drinking heavily or evidence of drug use
• Other ‘reckless' behaviour, e.g. driving too fast, taking unnecessary risks
• General lack of self-care, e.g. changes in eating/sleeping patterns, general neglect
• Greater sensitivity to events/situations around them
• Anxieties about performance, e.g. school work, other tasks, or self, e.g. body image
Be aware of other give-away signs:
• Wearing clothes that ‘cover up' sites of self-harm, e.g. lower arms
• Avoiding activities that might ‘expose' such sites, e.g. swimming, sports
• Implements going missing that might be used for self-harm, e.g. scissors, knives, matches etc
Dr Andrew Reeves, BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor, and expert in this field comments: "Parents/carers/friends should always keep their minds open to the possibility of self-harm in the family. It is too easy to think that it is someone else's problem, but sadly it is widespread with research indicating that a significant number of young people have self-harmed. It is however, important not to become too suspicious in response to this. Instead, you should ensure that, wherever possible and appropriate, opportunities are created to talk about how people may feel in a non-judgmental way. If they think that they have a safe and respectful opportunity to name difficult things, they are less likely to turn those feelings back on to themselves, or to use self-harm as a means of expression or stress-release."
Talking to a counsellor about feelings can often ease pressure and strain, reduce the need to self-harm and assist in finding different ways to cope. To find a counsellor in your area contact BACP on 01455 883300 or visit www.bacp.co.uk