Living With... Self Harm

According to Mind, self-harm is a broad term for a way of expressing very deep distress. Often, people don’t know why they self-harm. People may injure or poison themselves by scratching, cutting or burning their skin, by hitting themselves against objects, taking a drug overdose, or swallowing or putting other things inside themselves.

Tragically, nearly 6,000 people take their own lives every year in the UK – that’s 16 families bereaved by suicide every day. Nearly twice as many people die form suicide as they do in road traffic accidents.

Daniel’s story

Daniel is 14 and had been self-harming for a year and a half before he tried to take his own life for the first time. Unwilling and unable to speak to family members or adults about his problems, the Trafford youngster kept them to himself and even came up with a number of covering stories to keep his secrets safe.

Daniel’s parents split up when he was very young and he rarely saw his father. When Daniel was seven, his mother was in a relationship with a man who was abusive towards them both. Several years later, Daniel had a number of abusive experiences which led to him being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

At 12, he started to self-harm, hurting himself as a way of coping. At 13, Daniel tried to take his own life in the first of several attempts. Fortunately, on the last occasion, his mother found him before it was too late and began to realise the full extent of her son’s problems. After this incident, Daniel was referred to GMMH’s Young Person’s Directorate and started to receive the professional support he so badly needed.

He is still coming to terms with what he has been through, but is very positive about his recovery and keen to praise the professionals who have helped him. Every week, Daniel attends the Specialist Day service run by GMMH in Prestwich and looks forward to his time there as it often gives him the break he needs from the pressures of school.

Daniel has spoken at his school assembly about self-harming to help fellow students understand. “Don’t keep it a secret – no matter how minor you think self-harming is it’s serious and you should get help,” he says.

Jane’s story

Jane is 15 and lives with her Mum in Greater Manchester and agreed to talk about her experience of self-harm in order to raise awareness of the condition to other young people.

When did you first experience issues with self-harming?

I started to self-harm during my first year of high school, aged eleven. I was bullied in school and despite my efforts to get help, none was made available.

How long was it before you got help for your self-harming?

I was fourteen when I started to receive help but I didn’t actively seek it. My mum found me self-harming and took me to my local GP.

What was the next step?

My GP referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) which is an information resource regarding young people’s mental health.

I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for eight weeks but I didn’t feel that it helped me. It is important to build a relationship with your therapist but unfortunately I wasn’t able to. My condition worsened and I was then referred to the inpatient unit at Greater Manchester Mental Health where I received group therapy and took medication to help me.

How have the Trust staff helped you?

I was very scared when I was referred to the inpatient unit but everyone was really kind. I then started treatment with a specialist who has helped me enormously on my road to recovery and is the most amazing woman I have ever met.

It was difficult to stay as an inpatient but it meant I received a great deal of support from the staff.

What would your advice be to other self-harmers?

Firstly, don’t do it. You might feel completely alone but there is support available. Secondly, get help and talk to someone you can trust. Finally, don’t use the internet for advice; the best thing is to speak to professionals who can advise you properly.

Do you think schools need to be more involved in student’s well-being?

Definitely, if I had been offered support when I was bullied then maybe I could have dealt with the situation in a better way.

Pippa’s story

Pippa is fifteen and lives with her family in Greater Manchester.

When did you first experience issues with self-harming?

I was aged twelve and in my second year of high school when people started to spread hurtful stories about me which meant I was the focus of a lot of unwanted attention. The school got involved and I thought it would help the situation; unfortunately they didn’t take the time to listen to my side of the story.

I started to self-harm after watching a programme on TV. I thought it seemed like a good way to cope. I only self-harmed for a short time and once the attention died down I stopped completely.

When I was in my third year of high school, aged fourteen I got involved with ‘the wrong crowd’ and I started self-harming again as I was unhappy with the way my supposed friends treated me.

How long was it before you got help for your self-harming?

I kept my self-harming secret for over eight months. It was only after I was admitted to hospital (for a separate reason) that the nurses noticed my scars and mentioned them to my mum. Up to that point she didn’t know I was harming myself.

What was the next step?

The hospital referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) however, at that time there was little help they could offer me.

When I started my fifth year of high school, aged fifteen I was still self-harming and my situation was getting worse, I received a letter to return to CAMHS. I went to CAMHS but I found it hard to talk about my problems and didn’t feel as though I was improving.

I had to take two months off from school as I had no energy to look after myself and struggled to function. My mum really looked after me during this time and eventually I was referred to Greater Manchester Mental Health for treatment.

How have the staff at the Trust helped you?

Being treated at Greater Manchester Mental Health meant I could finally start my recovery. My mum took full responsibility of me so I could attend sessions during the day but still live at home with my family and they said they could see ‘the old Jodie coming back’.

GMMH staff were extremely kind and approachable and managed to put me at ease which was really helpful to my recovery.

What would your advice be to other self-harmers?

My advice would be to speak to someone, a family member or friend you trust. Now I am in recovery I couldn’t imagine self-harming again because I have seen the hurt and upset it causes and I don’t want to put my family through that anymore.

Do you think schools need to be more involved?

I think more needs to be done. There should be a greater awareness of self-harming in schools and colleges so that people don’t feel as though they are alone.

I was scared to ask for help and I didn’t want to go into hospital and be treated differently. I’d like to see the stigma about self-harming reduced through education.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter and people, ‘Daniel’, ‘Jane’ and ‘Pippa’ are pseudonyms and ‘Trafford’ has been used instead of ‘Daniel’s’ actual home town.

Getting help

If you have had suicidal thoughts recently, or are worried that someone you know might be depressed of having thoughts of suicide, there are people that can help.

The Samaritans operate a service that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 08457 909090. If you prefer to write down how you are feeling, or if you are worried you might be overheard talking on the phone, you can email them at jo@samaritans.org.

Childline runs a free helpline for children and young people in the UK. The call is free and the number will not show up on your phone bill. Call 0800 1111.