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West London NHS Trust > Patients and carers > Mental and physical health conditions > Self-harm


What is self-harm?

Self-harm is a person’s way of expressing deep distress when they can’t put into words or even thoughts what they are feeling. Whilst self-harm is not a mental illness, a person with a mental illness is more likely to self-harm than other people. It’s not to do with attention-seeking, although it is a cry for help; the adrenalin rush created by some forms of self-harm actually brings the person some temporary relief from their inner anguish.
Most people can overcome self-harm through some form of therapy and with the support of their loved ones and friends. They can be helped to learn to manage their own life pressures so that they no longer feel the need to resort to this.
Harm may be caused by:

  • Injury or poisoning
  • Scratching, cutting or burning skin
  • Hitting against objects
  • Taking a drug overdose
  • Swallowing or putting other things inside the body.

It can also be done in less obvious ways:

  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Staying in an abusive relationship
  • Developing an eating problem (such as anorexia or bulimia)
  • Not looking after personal emotional or physical needs.

Self-harm may be a way of releasing pain and finding some form of comfort. It can also be self-punishment or an attempt to gain some control over life. People who self-harm often hide what they are doing because they feel ashamed or afraid, yet they don’t want to stop because it provides solace.

How common is self-harm?

Women, and young women in particular, self-harm more than men. Ten per cent of 15 to 16 year olds are thought to have self-harmed, usually by cutting themselves.

Why is it important to get treatment?

It is very hard for a person to get out of a cycle of self-harming without professional help. One in three people who self-harm for the first time will do it again during the following year. Over the long term, people can do their bodies and their relationships a great deal of damage, until they get help.
Most people can overcome self-harm with the help of some form of talking treatment. At WLMHT, these focus on the whole person, not just the symptoms, helping them to see how they can have more active control over their behaviour and how it affects their life. It can also help them to deal with the underlying problems of self-esteem which often exist.
Making sure a person feels included in society is an important part of their treatment for self-harm at WLMHT. The care team will help them develop the skills they need to manage their behaviour and not feel isolated. They are given hope that they can lead a fulfilling life, take part in activities and develop relationships.

Living with self-harm

A person who is self-harming needs to talk to someone they trust. Many find joining a self-help group with others experiencing similar problems gives them the important support they need.

Care at WLMHT

The WLMHT care team works in an equal partnership with a person and their carers. A psychologist helps a person who is self-harming understand their feelings and learn to manage them in a different way. Together, they discuss the various treatment options.
The focus is on helping a person develop the skills they need to have active control over their lives and manage life’s pressures, and take care of themselves so that they can better manage their behaviour when they feel drawn to self-harm.
Individualised care is central to WLMHT’s way of caring for and treating those who self-harm. This includes taking into account each person’s diverse needs and personal treatment preferences.