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Self Harm Awareness Day: "Please don’t feel shame, you survived in the way you knew how."

Solent Mind's Sam shared their story with self harm, and advice for those who have loved ones suffering.

Content Warning: Discussions of self harm and self injury.

As March 1 marks Self Harm Awareness Day, Solent Mind communications and marketing lead Sam shares their story...

A lot is said of self-harming, or self-injury, and the people who do it. The truth is, everyone’s stories will differ, from reasons why to ways we did to ways we kept it a secret. 

One of the big things I still see said about teenagers who self-harm is that it is just a scream for attention, and for me that couldn’t be the furthest from the truth. The last thing I wanted was for people to know I was suffering, and I certainly didn’t want people to realise what I was doing to myself as a result. 

There are two levels to the self-harm I did to myself, one was probably what a lot of people think of when I say ‘self-harm’, that being direct self-injury. Directly and physically hurting myself. The other level was patterns of behaviour that overtime harmed me, both came with different reasons and motivation, so I will talk about them separately.  


Defined as the act of harming your own body on purpose, self-injury for me was a way of dealing with the intense emotions I was feeling. It almost felt like the emotions were pulsing through my veins and I just needed to get them out, or the thoughts were just trapped circling in my head so I had to beat them out. 

Even to this day as someone who hasn’t engaged in acts of self-injury for many years, when intense emotions are coming on, I can still sometimes feel an almost tingling sensation in my wrists.  

While some of the acts I engaged in were done in a way to ‘punish myself’, this was often less aggressive forms of self-injury. The most harmful acts were done to control the emotions, and stop myself screaming at the top of my lungs which would have drawn much more attention to myself, so it wasn’t an act for attention but quite the opposite.  

Any benefits I thought I would gain, however, were brief if not completely absent. Very quickly after the emotions were back, along with an added dose of guilt on top of it. Panic about what happens if someone finds out, and how can I hide it. 

Whether it was through long sleeve shirts in the summer, or cancelling plans in which I didn’t think it would be possible to hide it, I did everything I could to keep it secret. Even when I started open up more about my mental health, it took me longer to admit to the self-injury, because of the weight of shame it carried. 

Long term behaviours 

While self-injury is classified as a form of self-harm, the idea of what self-harm is becomes so much broader. This is where it became harder for me to define myself as self-harm, because I genuinely wasn’t thinking of it like that. 

I wasn’t directly harming myself, but the ways I would deal with my mental health struggles would do damage to body over a period. During one of my most severe depressive spells, going for runs became a crutch, a quick adrenaline rush to keep my mind and body busy. 

This, is not a harmful behaviour, in fact it is one that would be very beneficial for a lot of people. When you couple it with the fact I wasn’t eating or hydrating myself enough, is where the harm comes in. The damage I was doing over time to my body by over-exercising, and under-eating was huge. 

It made me physically ill, and as you can imagine caused me to drop extreme and unhealthy amounts of weight. In the moment, I didn’t define this as self-harm, and even as I started recovering I wouldn’t have defined it as that. 

It was only in the last couple of years as I educated myself on mental health, that this became apparent. Which is why conversations around self-harm are so important, because so many people could be engaging in this behaviour without realising. 

Advice to support someone self-harming 

Try to remain calm and kind... While I understand it can be shocking to see what someone you love has done to themselves, I have been on both sides of this conversation, please do your best to remain calm and patient with them. 

If they have reached the stage where they are opening up, I can assure you they have already been mad and guilted themselves enough, you don’t need to add to that.  

Don’t make it about you... Someone in your life engaging in these behaviours is not a reflection on you as a parent, friend, partner, or anything. Don’t talk about what a horrible person you feel like for not knowing, or question what kind of person you are that someone you love is suffering like this. 

Now is not the time, once again they feel enough guilt as it is, and are also not able to even start answering those questions for you. It is completely normal to feel these things when someone you love tells you this, and it is important to make time to work through those feelings, the time just isn’t with them. 

Don’t make them promise not to do it again... This will only further condemn shame, and perhaps put a barrier up to them opening up again. Instead, ask them to try to come to you when they feel like doing this again. 

They can’t promise not to do it again, self-harm or injury can become a habit, and even an addiction. It is not always as simple as making a promise and just stopping. 

Message to my past self 

First, please don’t feel shame or guilt, you survived in the way you knew how. There are better ways, and you will learn them over time, I just hope you can start earlier than me and start on your journey sooner.  

I am now almost 5 years free from self-injury, and while I know even just a week feels like a long time now, you have the strength to do it. 

Are you in need of mental health support? Solent Mind has a range of services across Hampshire ready to help you be mentally well and thrive. Visit 'Our Services' to see what we have on offer.

If you are looking after someone who is experiencing self harm, or work with young people, check out the Solent Mind Self Harm Support Hub. If you are a parent or carer, we have peer support sessions available. If you are a teacher or education professional, we have training for how best to support the young people in your care.

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