How to tell someone you self harm

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Self-harm is a difficult issue for many individuals male and female, young and old, rich and poor. Despite its long history and increasing popularity as a method of coping it still remains largely misunderstood by the individuals that harm themselves and those who try and understand the behaviour. Self-harm is an often secretive behaviour with individuals hurting themselves for many moths or years before ever disclosing to another person that they self harm. Often things can be made worse initially by telling others but once the initial hurdles are over come there is a lot of support available to help those who want to either cope with, end or minimise their own self harming behaviour.

Self harm is a relatively common behaviour and the statistics below are highly likely to be much lower than the real number of people who self harm due to the number of individuals who do not tell anyone about their self harm and the number of individuals who never require medical or professional intervention either with the injuries or the emotional difficulties related to the self harm. The Mental Health Foundation published a report “The Fundamental Facts: all the latest facts and figures on mental illness” in 1999. Amongst their findings it was found that of 142,000 hospital admissions in England and Wales each year for self-harm 19, 000 of these admissions are for young people who have harmed themselves. 74% of women who self harm started during childhood and 69% of women who self harm have done so for over five years It was suggested that a total of one in ten young people will self harm at some point and will do so on more than one occasion. The most common form of self-harm was found to be cutting. 

Prior to somebody coming out about their self harm it is important for them to understand the reasons behind why they want to some out and also have an understanding of some of the likely reactions to their coming out. Coming out about self-harm can invoke a wide and varied range of feelings and emotions, which can be positive and negative. There are many ways of coming out about being a self-harmer and there are no rules that say how it should be done. It can take the form of speaking to someone, writing to them or even just showing them scars and letting that pave way to start talking. It is also possible to tell someone through email or on cassette although in this case it is often worth considering setting aside time afterwards to be able to discuss the self harm with them.

By telling someone about being a self-harmer shows strength and courage and can often be a relief to be able to let go of such a secret. It is important to be sensitive to the other person’s feelings and accept that they might not know how to react or what to say. They may be understanding but equally may not understand and be disgusted by the disclosure. By offering them time to think about how they feel they will be in a better position to offer support and a listening ear. You will need to be aware of your own needs during the conversation and don’t go any faster than you feel able to, accept your own judgements as to what to say and how much to say and be prepared to stand firm about your own feelings. Consider why you feel the need to tell somebody and explain these reasons to them as this may help the conversation and help aid any misunderstanding they may have. It will also help to show them that you are not in any way coming out in to punish them and make sure that you remain calm during your disclosure. If you are worried about telling someone about your self-harm you may find that having a friend or other supporter who knows about your self-harm to be present with you and to offer you support immediately after the disclosure. In all events look after and recognise that you too have needs and be prepared to answer questions and provide information.

If you have decided to come out about your self-harm remember the following, it is your choice how little or how much you decided to say. You have a right to cope in which ever way you need or want to and you are free to choose to continue to self harm if that is what you want. Respect your own needs whilst telling others about your self harm and make a decision about who you want to know and the reasons why you want each of these people to know. Finally respect other people’s thoughts and reactions to your coming out and get support for yourself if you feel you need it both prior to and after coming out.

There are a number of web based and national organisations that can help you talk through coming out and can help you to understand your self-harm better. These can be contacted on the details below.

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