Healthy Mind

Understanding self-harm

What is it? 
Self-harm is any physical damage inflicted to the self. This can include cutting, hitting, burning or picking sores on the body.  
Why do people self-harm? 
Usually due to feelings of low self-esteem, stress or depression, however the causes are numerous and various. The act is usually carried out in secret and can remain this way for a long time. 
It is a shock to learn that someone you know and love has been hurting like this. It can also be confusing and frightening. Whether it be by accident or by confession, reactions to self-harm can be difficult to control. The most important thing is to lack judgement. This is a big step for them, having somebody know a hidden grief of theirs and it can be embarrassing and scary to let somebody know. Their trust must not be breached as a result, so everything they say should be kept confidential as possible. 
Take everything slowly. Ask questions and talk about it, but remember to be sensitive. Try and focus on what causes the person to self-inflict. Guide them towards help if you can. Counsellors at colleges are one hundred per cent confidential and free, do not hesitate to speak to them for help or advice. 
What not to do/not to do? 
Do not give them an ultimatum of self-harming or your friendship. This is stress inducing and hurtful; remember they told you because they trust you. Try and distinguish a trigger for the self-harm, whether it is school work, money problems, relationship problems etc. Talking helps. This might seem like a huge duty for the friend, always remember you are not responsible for their actions. You are there to help, not prevent. Self-harm is a coping mechanism. Never ever accuse them of looking for attention. Although commonly misinterpreted, self-inflicted injury is not a sign of suicide. It is temporary relief from emotional turmoil. 
There are many services available to those suffering from self-harm such as guidance counsellors and numerous websites. I have listed a few below for consideration. There is one I would like to pinpoint, although all of these organizations do fantastic work and are listed in no particular order. Niteline is a service run through calls and instant messaging with a strong focus on college students experiencing difficulty. It is not an advice service, it is a person who will listen and sympathise. Sometimes it is easier to write down how you feel instead of speaking.
I urge anyone who is reading this article and hurting to talk to somebody. You are not alone and people are willing to help. Things do get better and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 
Here are some organisations who are trained to help you with any emotional distress you may feel you are facing on your own.