Self-harm generally means direct physical attacks on parts of your own body, like cutting, scratching, burning and pulling hair out.
There are other sorts of behaviour that can also be considered as types of self-harm, for example: excessive drinking or taking drugs to a point that it seriously impacts on your health or puts you into potentially dangerous situations; driving recklessly; always getting into harmful relationships and seriously neglecting your health.
Perhaps the most well known form of self-harm is cutting. This is making cuts or scratches on the body, usually the arms, legs, chest or stomach. For many, self-harm is an attempt to manage difficult and frightening feelings. The person cutting can find it a relief to feel external pain partly as a distraction from internal, overwhelming and painful emotions.
While people who cut themselves can feel a sense of release when they are actually doing it, this release is brief and is usually followed by feelings of guilt and shame, along with the realisation that the problems simply continue or intensify. Some people who cut do it as a way of stopping themselves carrying out more risky forms of self-harm, or even attempting suicide. Cutting can have an addictive or compulsive element to it. As a result, those who start can sometimes then find it hard to stop.
A typical myth is that people who cut are seeking attention. In fact it is usually a very secret activity, cuts and scratches are often kept hidden and those cutting generally feel ashamed of it. It is likely that someone self-harming is finding it extremely hard to cope with their emotions. Usually it takes the place of being able to put difficult feelings into words, and many find if they are able to talk about their problems with a supportive person: friend, family member, counsellor, tutor, GP etc - the desire to self-harm lessens.
Where to get help
The counsellors at Queen Mary are experienced at talking to people who self-harm, whether now or in the past. If you are worried about this, or any other kind of self-harming you are doing, have done, or are worried you might do, you might benefit from booking an appointment.
National Self Harm Network is the lead UK charity offering support to people affected by self-harm. It runs an online support forum and support is also available via email.
Bristol Crisis Service for Women provide a national text and email support service for girls and young women up to 25 who self-injure - TESS text and email support service. Their website also provides self-help info around managing difficult feelings, flashbacks and anger and how to move from self-injury to self-care.
LifeSIGNS is a voluntary organisation run by people who have personal experience of self-injury. Their website contains lots and lots of information and advice about self-injury - from how to 'surf the urge' to scar reduction/camouflage advice. Anyone thinking about hurting themselves right now might find their 'Read this first' page helpful.
London Black Women's Project - 020 8472 0528, firstname.lastname@example.org work with Black and Asian women and girls vulnerable to suicide and self-harm. They have a resource centre offering legal advice, information, counselling, including information and counselling for people who self-harm. They also run refuge services for women needing to escape from violent situations.
thesite.org offers a key source of information about self-harm. It provides a wide range of advice and resources for young people who self-harm, their friends, families and professionals as well as discussion boards and real life stories.
MIND provides a downloadable booklet called 'Understanding self-harm'.
Self Heal - Oxford Uni students have developed an app to help prevent self-harm in students. It is available for iphones and Android phones in the usual way: http://self-healapp.co.uk/