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Tuesday, October 12, 1999 Published at 20:06 GMT 21:06 UK


Self-harm factfile

People who self-harm might take a minor overdose

People with a history of self-harm deliberately inflict injury upon themselves, for example, by cuttting or burning themselves or taking an overdose. Experts say the problem is more common than most people think and is linked to feelings of low self-esteem. Many people may hurt themselves secretly for some time before they ask for help, often because of fear and shame.

What is self-harm?

Contrary to popular myth, people who harm themselves are not trying to commit suicide. They use self-harm as a way of coping with difficult emotions.

Instead of expressing their feelings openly, they take them out on their bodies by cutting or burning themselves, picking their skin, taking an overdose, bruising themselves or pulling their hair out.

Experts say a person who harms themselves only slightly may be just as seriously ill as one who takes an overdose.

Triggers for self-harm can include bullying, bereavement, pressure at work, abuse, financial problems, pressure to fit in and relationship problems.

When these pressures pile up, people can find it difficult to cope. Some say that they feel things are out of control.

One sufferer said: "I think control's a big thing. Youn can't control what's happening around you, but you can control what you do to yourself."

Self-harm is often linked to feelings of self-hatred and depression and appears more common in women than men.

Experts suggest this may be because men find it easier to express emotions like anger in an outward way or take it out on others.

Some people find it difficult to give up the behaviour despite realising that it could be life-threatening and is not rational.


Many people who self-harm do not understand why they do it and may find it frightening to deal with the emotions that drive them to this behaviour.

Experts say it is easier to give up if sufferers can find other ways of dealing with stress.

They advise that people seek help to confront the reasons behind their behaviour.

For friends and family who notice a person is harming themselves, YoungMinds, a charity for children with mental health problems, recommends listening and supporting the person to get help.

It says people should try to keep an open mind and not judge the person and take them seriously.

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