The Basics of Self-Harm.

As the first week of March is known as Self Injury Awareness Week I thought there was no better time than now to talk about this pressing issue.

Although I’ve spent a great deal of time being open and entirely too honest about my mental health, self-harm is not something I often bring up. I’m not sure why. It’s not as if it’s any more or less of an issue than my anxiety, depression or even the eating disorder. So why haven’t I discussed it at an excruciating length? Embarrassment? Shame? Guilt? Fear of people in my personal and professional life knowing that I, Nyxie, have been known to engage in ‘traditional‘ self-harm behaviours? It’s actually a combination of all four.

I began self-harming the year I entered high school at just eleven years old.

At the time I was going through a lot in regards to hating my body and feeling like I’d never been good enough (nor would I ever be). It’s not surprising, actually, seeing as the transition from primary to secondary school is often daunting for children. It was more shadowed by the fact that I was already a veteran of womanhood, having had my period for between three to four years at that point. All this talk of puberty and the various meetings us young girls had to attend fell on deaf ears. (In fact, I’m fairly certain I could have taken those lectures better than the teachers themselves).

I don’t know what first brought me to the conclusion that self-harm was the way forward, but it happened and would be one of my main outlets well into my twenties. I’m not going to go into great detail only that I was partial to nipping to the toilets in school, university and yes, even workplaces, for a quick ‘procedure’ in order to release the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Currently, as I’m writing this I’m around five months clean from traditional self-harm, meaning that although I may still be ‘self-harming‘ in other ways, my traditional method has been put to rest. For now. And I say that only because I know that recovery isn’t linear and relapses are expected, if not inevitable.

You might also like What’s It Mean To Be Passively Suicidal.

Self-Harm: A brief explanation.

Self-harm is often a difficult thing for many to talk about. Yet, it’s more common than you would initially think.

The phrase “Self-Harm” refers to someone causing deliberate harm to themselves through various means. It’s often a coping technique for distressing and overwhelming feelings which the individual may feel otherwise unable to control. Arguably self-harm may also be used as a way for someone to punish themselves i.e engaging in self-starvation to punish themselves for ‘binging’ or eating more than they deem acceptable.

Self-Harm IS NOT a cry for attention or a suicide attempt, although often misinterpreted as both by the general population. The stigma surrounding self-harm often causes people to shy away, choosing to hide their issues rather than seek help.

Who might self-harm?

There is no such thing as a typical ‘self-harmer.’ It’s not limited to the teenager who enjoys listening to dark music and wearing black (despite what you might think). There are, however, certain factors that may cause someone to be more susceptible to self-harm than others. These may include;

  • Social issues such as being bullied, struggling in work or schooling, poor or difficult relationships, sexuality, cultural issues, etc.
  • Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, dissociation, and various other mental health issues.
  • Trauma such as abuse, the death of a loved one. Basically, anything that triggers a traumatic response, even vicariously, can cause a person to self-harm in a bid to control their levels of distress.

These varying issues can build up and up until there is nowhere else for them to go. The swell into intense feelings of anger, guilt, self-hatred, etc. With no external support, the individual may feel so overwhelmed that they feel they have no other choice but to try and ‘release’ these feelings. But the feeling of relief is only temporary and is often shortly replaced by shame and guilt.

Although self-harm is not considered to be an attempted suicide, some people who self harm are at risk of suicide. It’s important to know the signs, and often these are overlapping. Either way, the individual needs support and that may mean going to a professional for help.

Self-harm can take many forms such as, but not limited to:
  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Punching / hitting yourself.
  • Taking non-lethal doses of medications/drugs.
  • *Self-Starvation.
  • *Purging – inducing vomiting etc.
*Self-starvation etc has been added because they could be seen as self-harm. This is subjective so please don’t take this as gospel.

What are the statistics?

It’s impossible to say the exact amount of people who engage in self-harm behaviours. This is due in part to the fact that most people see it as taboo and therefore don’t feel comfortable enough to talk about it. Much like mental illness, self-harm can affect anyone at any time in their lives and for a variety of reasons.

The current statistics for self-harm are a little muddy but ultimately show an overall increase in reported cases. Without a doubt, I’m certain that the actual number of those engaging in self-harm behaviours is much higher, especially among adults.

  • According to The Lancet Psychiatry study in 2014 6% of people reported having self-harmed, an increase of 4% since 2000.
  • 50% of those admitting to self-harm aren’t receiving any formal help. More alarmingly still, the main group affected are those aged between 16 to 24. This is similar to the findings of the KESS report for Northern Ireland (see below) which stated that the majority of self-harmers were between 15 and 29 years old.
  • In 2014 19.7% of young women aged between 16 and 24 reported having self-harmed at some point in their lives. This is an increase from 11.7% in 2007 and 6.5% in 2000.
  • In Northern Ireland, according to the KESS 2015-2016, over 8453 people presented to A&E’s across the country with self-harm related injuries during 2014/2015. This obviously doesn’t take into account those who haven’t needed medical attention, or who have cleverly managed to fob off their injury as accidental (which happens more often than not).
  • Instances of self-harm were equal between men and women. Usually, women present more often than men (according to various studies).
*The Lancet Psychiatry Study collected data from various mental health surveys across England. Other areas of the UK such as Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales are presumably not recorded.

The cycle of self-harm.

Roughly the cycle which causes someone to harm themselves in order to deal with difficult emotions/life events. I’m taking this from a personal standpoint, so please feel free to correct me.

As the first week of March is known as Self Injury Awareness Week I thought there was no better time than now to talk about this pressing issue.”

Too many, including myself, are scared to speak out about self-harm. It’s not just an issue for the ‘emo kids‘ down the street, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. The media played a big part in painting the picture of alternative fashion and music spreading the use of self-harm as a ‘trend.’ I’m here to tell you it’s not a trend, it never was nor should have been a trend and it’s time we stopped thinking as such.

Self-harm, as I’ve mentioned furiously throughout the article, is a very real and pressing matter. It’s not something to be scoffed at! Instead, it’s something that needs to be addressed and sooner rather than later.


  1. I personally use it as a method of self-harm so I simply couldn’t glance over it. You’re right. In todays society starving or eating less is accepted, much like smoking and drinking [to an extent]. It’s honestly disgraceful that people see eating fewer than is needed for a toddler to survive, much less an adult, is acceptable because of diet culture.
    Sending lots of love! x

  2. I am honestly happy to see that you did include the fact that self starvation could be included in the list of self harm. This is something that I have struggled with for a good portion of my life, and it’s often shrugged off as invalid as it’s not something that most people associate with self harm. However, understanding that I am using it in that was was an important step towards addressing it in my life – By including it here, you may be opening that door for someone else.

  3. I still feel I’m attention-seeking even though I know it’s not true. It’s just ingrained into my mind. I have told one of my other co-workers about my illness and history of self-harm and she is completely supportive of me (and even confided).
    Thank you for reading once again and for also opening up. xx

  4. Thank you for sharing this Nyxie and for shedding a light on such a difficult topic. I previously self harmed in my late teens and the only person who ever knew was my boyfriend. At the time I was worried people would see it as attention seeking because in their eyes I probably didn’t have any reason to do it, whereas in reality I was incredibly anxious and down pretty much all the time. Even now I feel too embarrassed to tell anyone because there’s still so much stigma around it. More needs to be done to educate people around the fact that it’s most definitely not attention seeking. Xxx

  5. I am within the category where I do things I know aren’t safe for me because I don’t care. Especially when I’m in that headspace. But driving is something that terrifies me, even when I am in a dark place!

    Thank you for reading.

  6. Thank you for reading. I hope that by reading this it’s given you some encouragement to open up about your own experience! Stay strong.

  7. You’re right that this needs to be de-stigmafied and talked about more.
    I’m glad you mentioned the less physical avenues that people use, like drugs. I feel there is also another less physical avenue where people knowingly do dangerous things without regards for their safety, for example, drink and drive.

  8. It is a very important post. Self harm should be openly faced and seen. thankfully I can not relate to this post

  9. This topic is not easy to write about. The good thing is the more we talk about self-harm the more people know about it and those effected by it can get support.

  10. Thank you for clearing up some ideas about self-harm. I really like the cycle that explains it. It is much clearer for me.

  11. It’s not easy to out your personal experiences out there for the world to see. I cannot even talk about mine. It is very brave of you and inspiring. Its time to take life into our own hands. Not let our worries rule us, instead we should rule our worries..!!

  12. Definitely an informative discussion about self harm. I never did it myself but I watched how my ex suffered through it all. It’s gotta be hard. And congrats on being clean for so long.

  13. Great informative read! Thank you. Most of us don’t bother talking about our own self harm moments which is wrong. Talking to a loved one about it could totally re-purpose the feeling. Thank you for pointing it out.

  14. I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure a self-harmer must feel. I know you said that it wasn’t easy for you to write this post but it was very brave and the truth is we need more awareness on this topic.

  15. It’s so important to talk about mental health and stop the stigma surrounding it. Thank you for writing and posting this, for sharing your experiences.

  16. Fortunately I have never known self-harm neither on my skin nor on anyone I know, but it is a very important topic to know and talk about.

  17. Thank you for reading Krysten. It was a hard one to discuss, more so than anything else I’ve talked about, but I feel that it’s something I should at least attempt to cover more in the future.

  18. YES! Very good point! They assume that people are suicidal just because they self-harm which is entirely incorrect! I have been terrified to discuss my self-harm with my therapist even now, even though I know she knows I’m not active!

  19. Thank you for reading and commenting. I have no doubt in my mind that it’s a lot higher than the statistics just because it goes undetected in many people. We learn how to hide it, we don’t talk about it and we’re even embarrassed with ourselves because we’re being associated with ’emo teenagers’, who are also suffering and shouldn’t be silenced by stigma. You know?

  20. I think self harm is much more prevalent than most of us realize. I think the number in young girls is much higher than reported. And I think that the increase over the past few years is because more are becoming brave enough to admit it. I do hope that they continue to feel comfortable coming out and asking for help. We have the ability to help people with this now, if only they could see that support.
    Thank you for your candor. You will never know how many people you have helped.

  21. I found that another reason people are afraid to speak up about self-harm is because under trained mental health professionals automatically assume the person is suicidal. Many of the kids I’ve worked with have expressed that they’re afraid they’ll get sent to a mental hospital when in reality they do not have any SI. Thank you for working to break down the stigma and educate others!

  22. Very informative. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on the 5 months milestone! Best wishes for continued recovery.

  23. Great post Nyxie! It’s honest, informative and I think it may hit home for some people. Thank you for sharing this. It’s extremely brave of you <3

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