Safety and Self-Harm

I have worked with many young people who have used self-harm as a coping skill. They have often confided in others, seen GPs and child or adolescent mental health professionals and yet 9 in 10 have never been informed of any safety or risk issues. This horrifies me! This post focuses on supporting adolescents because this is a main focus of the work I do but if you are an adult who self harms or supporting an adult who does then the safety information still applies.

Self-harm is something that is on the increase but still not often talked about or understood. As a parent, family member of friend it can be terrifiying, while it is bad, remember that it is a coping skill, just a negative one. Helping them to talk or have a safe person to talk to is a good starting place. If you are interested in a counsellor you can access through your GP (however this can take time and is GP dependent), if you are a child or young person you may be able to be referred to a CAMHS therapist and get support that way.  Schools may have a counsellor on site (this is what I do) or you can go private. this website can help you find young person centred counselling in your area. I am based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

What is important if you are self harming or supporting someone who is, is to know the risk and safety aspects around self harm. This may seem counterintuitive because you don’t want them to do it at all, but it’s better to know. Self harm offers something important, taking away that coping skill without offering an alternative can cause great distress, so it is likely the person harming will not stop immediately. If you felt comfortable talking with them, you could phrase it something like “I never want you to self harm or feel like you couldn’t get support but if you do find yourself about to do it then…”  

The main points:

* Always use something clean to cut with, never broken glass or something jagged etc. Sterilisation in boiling water is a good way to avoid infection. 

* Stay away from main veins or arteries. 

* If you break the skin then check blood flow is only minimal or get help.

* Try to ensure someone is nearby so you can call for help if need be.

* Keep wounds clean to avoid infection. 

Obviously there are many methods of self harm and it stretches to include some eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual acts etc. I have focused on cutting as it is the most commonly discussed in my sessions. Regardless of any method of self harm…

* If you ever feel like you are not in control or suicidal then you must get help straight away.

This is a very very brief overview but hopefully raises some awareness of the issues around self-harm.

Please add any further advice or suggestions in the comments and let me know what you think about this kind of support.

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