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Self Harming

For us in Barbados, self harming might seem as though it is not done here, but do not be fooled, several young people engage in self-harming which can take lots of physical forms, including cutting, burning, bruising, scratching, hair-pulling, poisoning and over dosing.


There are many reasons why children and young people try to hurt themselves and once they start, it can become a compulsion. That's why it's so important to spot it as soon as possible and do everything you can to help.


Self-harm isn’t usually a suicide attempt or a cry for attention. Instead, it’s often a way for young people to release overwhelming emotions. It’s a way of coping. So whatever the reason, it should be taken seriously. 


The exact reasons why children and young people decide to hurt themselves aren't always easy to work out. In fact, they might not even know exactly why they do it.


There are links between depression and self-harm. Quite often a child or young person who is self-harming is being bullied, under too much pressure to do well at school, being emotionally abused, grieving or having relationship problems with family or friends.

The feelings that these issues bring up can include:


  • low self-esteem and low confidence 

  • loneliness

  • sadness

  • anger

  • numbness

  • lack of control over their lives


Often, the physical pain of self-harm might feel easier to deal with than the emotional pain that's behind it. It can also make a young person feel they're in control of at least one part of their lives.  Sometimes it can also be a way for them to punish themselves for something they've done or have been accused of doing.


Young people will go to great lengths to cover self-harm scars and injuries. If you do spot them they might be explained away as accidents.


The signs to look for divide into the physical and emotional.


Physical signs of self-harm

These are commonly on the head, wrists, arms, thighs and chest and include:

  • cuts

  • bruises

  • burns

  • bald patches from pulling out hair


Young people who self-harm are also very likely to keep themselves covered up in long-sleeved clothes even when it's really hot.


Emotional signs of self-harm

The emotional signs are harder to spot and don't necessarily mean that a young person is self-harming. But if you see any of these as well as any of the physical signs then there may be cause for concern.


  • depression, tearfulness and low motivation

  • becoming withdrawn and isolated, for example wanting to be alone in their bedroom for long periods  

  • unusual eating habits; sudden weight loss or gain

  • low self-esteem and self-blame

  • drinking or taking drugs


What you can do about self-harm

Teens who indulged in this behaviour may be crying out for help and very often they cannot ask for it, so we must try to help them and we can do so in the following ways:


  • Show you understand

  • Talk it over

  • Discover the triggers

  • Build their confidence

  • Show you trust them

  • Choose who you tell carefully

  • Help them find new ways to cope


The self-harm cycle

Self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism. The physical pain of self-harm might feel easier to deal with than the emotional pain that's behind it.


Sometimes it can be a way for someone to punish themselves for something they've done. It can also make them feel they're in control of something in their life. 


When a person self-harms, chemicals are released into the brain which can become addictive very quickly.  The person may feel an instant relief of pressure and ‘bad feelings’. This relief is short lived and is often replaced by feelings of guilt and immediate pressure. And this is how the cycle continues.


The effects of self-harm on others

When a child is self-harming it's bound to have a big effect on you and your whole family too.  Your other children are also certain to pick up on the fact that something's wrong so make sure that you give them all the support they need.  Discovering your child is self-harming can feel quite overwhelming.


So make sure that you also get all the support you need from friends and family and maybe professional counsellors.

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