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Dedicated to self-harm recovery, insight and support.

Happy Christmas?

The blog post below was written by Sophie, a previous Graduate Volunteer with SelfharmUK and Youthscape.

I’m not usually someone who gets really excited for Christmas Day. For as long as I can remember, I was always at my mum’s for half of the day and my dad’s for the other half. I never really had a problem with having two homes – it was quite nice sometimes! But Christmas is the time when having a broken family is highlighted. Seeing other people’s festive photos would get to me. Obviously I knew not everyone was having the perfect Christmas, but seeing friends having big, ‘perfect’ family do’s would just remind me that I didn’t have that. At one house, it was almost like people were trying to play happy families when it wasn’t the case at all. It just felt forced and awkward.

I don’t find it as much of an issue now, and I’m even prepared for the drama I know will take place this year! But around Christmastime, feelings are automatically triggered for me based on how I’ve experienced Christmas in the past. So over the years it’s become normal to not feel the best during this time, but it’s something that is changing!

A few years ago, I was out with some friends and the place where we were, happened to have a Christmas themed night (bearing in mind it was April, so I don’t know what was going on there!) They’d play a Christmas song every few songs and it got to the point where I had to take a step outside as it was just making me feel down. Of course, everyone LOVED it, and they were dancing around, singing at the top of their lungs. I thought everyone liked Christmas, until one of my friends joined me outside. I explained why I was out there, and she turned to me and shared how she didn’t really like Christmas that much either. She was just going along with it, having a sing and dance. It was SO refreshing to hear I wasn’t the only one in there pretending.

However you are feeling this Christmas, you are not alone.

Did you know that it’s okay to not be okay at Christmas?

It sometimes seems like we have to be so joyful at Christmas, so we put on fake smiles and go along with the festivities when really, for some, it’s a time of pain, anxiety, stress. Perhaps Christmas reminds you that a loved one is no longer with you, perhaps it reminds you of how broken your family is. There are many reasons why Christmas may not be the happiest time of the year for you, and that’s totally okay.

The thing is, it’s pretty hard to avoid Christmas altogether, but there are always ways you can try and make it easier for yourself.

Knowing that the urge to self harm is usually heightened at Christmas can give you the upper hand as it won’t catch you off guard. It means you can come up with a number of distractions and other ways to cope in those moments. You can find some suggestions here. Take time for yourself this Christmas – you don’t have to fake how you’re feeling.

This year I’m choosing to shift my focus from the things I don’t like about Christmas, to the things I’m thankful for, appreciating what I do have rather than what I don’t. I want to be thinking more about the real meaning of Christmas rather than being so caught up in my own circumstances. I’m going to make more time for self-care; doing things that help energise and fill me rather than drain me.

A YouTuber I’ve found to be really helpful is Kati Morton. She is a licenced therapist and creates videos on a broad range of topics surrounding mental health and answers questions from her viewers. My particular favourite this year is a video where she gives some handy tips on how you can stay mindful at Christmas...

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Kelly's battle with Self-harm

Dame Kelly Holmes; seven times gold medallist, Olympic extraordinaire and exceptional athlete, Kelly has worked incredibly hard for all she has achieved and I’m sure there has been sacrifices along the way.

This weekend Kelly revealed that in the lowest point of her life she turned to self-harm. Her exact words in the interview were “At my lowest, I was cutting myself with scissors every day that I was injured to cope with my emotional anguish”

There can be many reasons why people begin to self-harm and the pressure that Kelly felt in those weeks and months would have been devastating and all consuming, she had no other way to deal with the emotional pain she was carrying and her self-harm was the only thing that helped her to cope.

I think this is another stark reminder that it is not just 14-year-old girls who self-harm, but that it can affect anyone at any stage in their life, whatever circumstance they find themselves in. Kelly Holmes is not an attention seeker, she is not crazy, she was just totally unable to process the divesting news that she may not compete again. I would imagine she felt lonely and completely out of control.

Feeling out of control is something a lot of the young people we work with feel and can lead them to harm. This story is also a reminder that all people regardless of what they do for a living or their worldly status can feel lonely, isolated and out of control.

This interview does however end with a light at the end of the tunnel, she kept going and got the help and support she needed. With this support, Kelly managed to stop harming, this is remarkable and I think offers real hope for anyone who currently finds themselves in a dark and lonely place. This is not to say the road to recovery is easy and doesn’t take a lot of time and perseverance, but it does remind us it is possible. We must be ready to share how we are feeling with someone in our lives to begin our journey of change and healing. This is not easy, but is necessary to begin to process how we bring about change.

This should also challenge us to think about our own recovery, so ask yourself:

  • What are the things that are causing you to try to gain some control?
  • How does controlling food help to make things better?
  • What things may need to change for the need to control to fade?

If you would like to gain some support about self-harm you can sign up to Alumina, our six-week support programme.

We also have books to help with the self-harm recovery which you can purchase via our store.

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Quiet – shhhh…

We have heard it from parents, teachers and librarians countless times in our lives and, sadly, often negatively, in a ‘don’t make any noise’ sense!

How about ‘quiet’ in a positive way? ‘quiet’ said in a soothing, gentle way encourages us to relax, breathe and slow down.

Silence and quiet are things that are hard to achieve – maybe we don’t enjoy our own company; maybe we like to keep busy and have background noise constantly; maybe silence isn’t something we are comfortable with?

If silence isn’t something you feel comfortable with it, try it in small amounts to begin with. Thursday 14th September is National Quiet Day, a day all about encouraging you to find a place that feels safe and comfortable where you can relax (or maybe even fall asleep, as that’s what tends to happen when we find places that are quiet!).

Finding quiet in our noisy, crammed lives is hard. It is a discipline we have to learn to take time to listen to what our feelings are saying, what our thoughts are wanting us to ponder and what our body is trying to tell us about how we are doing physically.

You might find sitting with your own thoughts uncomfortable; perhaps all your thoughts and feelings come flooding into your head? That’s ok – write them down, tackle them one by one and give yourself time to think through each feeling that comes into your thoughts. Acknowledge it. Name the feeling. Validate it in the way you would let a friend know you understand them – give yourself permission to feel.

Perhaps finding your quiet place will allow you to draw or sing your thoughts? Hey, no one needs to see or hear you (that’s the joy of a quiet place!), so if you want to sing, shout, cry or laugh – do!

Perhaps reading will allow you some time to read for pleasure? Read slowly enjoying each paragraph. Find a book you loved as a child and go back to it.

Perhaps learning to breathe slower, deeper so your lungs are filled like a balloon might help you relax your muscles, your brain and anxieties?

Quiet offers us the ability to listen to ourselves. Giving yourself the gift of quiet allows you to give you what you give to some many others: your concentration, your love and your thoughts.

This year, why not use National Quiet Day to find some quiet to be with yourself?

If you already have your very own quiet place - we’d love to see it! This could be anything from that bench that you always find peaceful on your daily dog walk, that patch of grass on top of that hill with the best view near your house, your sofa at home or even that place you always like to sit at your favourite cafe. Send your images to info@selfharm.co.uk and we’ll post the best ones on our Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter on the day in the hope of inspiring others to find their own quiet places.

You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. #NationalQuietDay

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Hollyoaks: self-harm on TV

Yeah, I know, some people love it and some hate it! Hollyoaks is the marmite of soap operas :0

It is the only soap we watch in my house of 2 teenagers. Why? Because we love the fact that it represents gay people, straight people, mental health issues and race issues far more than anything else on TV (unproportionally so, I know!).

There’s a story line at the moment about Lily Drinkwell (yep, that is her name!) who has begun self-harming after numerous issues in her life: mum dying, boyfriend issues, rejection and body image. It shows the complexity of the emotions: it isn’t ever juts one thing that leads a person to begin to self-harm: it is many, many things that have all layered upon each other to create a set of complex emotions that a person feels are out of control.

Lily impulsively self-harmed the first time: it wasn’t planned, she hadn’t expected to do it. In our experience at SelfharmUK, this is often the way: the first time isn’t thought through but is reaction to huge feelings of strong emotions. Lily then feels guilty and ashamed afterwards: her aunt notices blood on the towel and insists she gets medical attention. This, is where soap opera land differs from real life: for many young people, their self-harm isn’t noticed for some time. It then becomes a coping strategy to deal with those emotions that aren’t going away, but are, in fact, becoming more layered, due to the guilt of self-harming and fear of being ‘found out’.

If this is you, if you are in this cycle, whether it’s been a one off self-harm, or whether you feel you are stuck in this never ending cycle of harming; feeling bad; feeling guilty; harming to release the feelings…; we want to support you.

At SelfharmUK we are pretty unshockable, we don’t judge you, we don’t tell anyone (unless we urgently need to for safety). We aren’t about how TV portrays self-harm; we are about the reality of it: the long haul, no quick fixes, giving you information on looking after yourself and your injuries, ideas about pulling apart those emotions positively with trained people: we are about what you are about.

We listen; we chat; we offer help; we offer ideas of new ways; we help you consider what’s going on in those layers of emotions so that you can, when you want to, find a new way of coping with those strong, real and confusing feelings.

We run a safe place online, called Alumina, where trained people can support you. 

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Alumina Summer Programme - Medication

Jo talks to us about managing medication.

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Will alternatives work?

The road to ‘recovery’ from self-harm can be full of twists and turns: you may feel that you are ready and want to look for alternative coping strategies – here are some things to consider:

Deciding the stop, or reduce your self-harming behaviour is a huge step forward: it shows a mindset desperately wanting to find a ‘new way’. Go gently on yourself.

Many people talk about reducing gradually before deciding to finally stop. This may be helpful for you or you may decide you need to separate yourself from it immediately. Either way is fine – don’t put too much pressure on yourself though.

Take a day at a time, or even half a day. This is will depend on what your pattern of harming is, the frequency of it, how long you have been engaged in it and what are the external things that might be causing you stress. Perhaps set yourself a timer, and add an hour/half day/day to it each time?

Plan when and how to reduce or stop. Think about what else is going on for you currently  -how are you coping with school, exams, family stuff, friendship issues? If you have any major stress factors (like exams), consider waiting until they have been as resolved as they can be, before reducing or stopping. This way, if you are struggling, you won’t be putting yourself under impossible pressure.

Recognise it may take a while. Whatever form of harming behavior you have been using to cope, it will be an addiction and a habit. Retraining your brain to find a new way of coping will take time – allow yourself time to experiment with different coping strategies to find what works for you.

At the start, it’s important we are honest with you: none of the coping strategies will give you the same relief you have found in your harming. Wearing elastic bands, using ice cubes or exercise are alternatives; your brain will take a bit of time to rewire itself to recognize this as the new way of coping. The physical and emotional relief you might get from your harming, may not be fully relieved immediately by using alternatives.

The most important thing is, however long it takes; even if it’s two steps forward and one back; you move forward at your pace. Don’t go too hard on yourself. Be as kind to you, as you are to your friends.

Show yourself love, patience and gentleness.

We have list of tried and tested alternative strategies, but please, let us know others as the longer the list, the more we can all offer other young people who are seeking to looking for a new coping strategy.

We are with you in this, you aren’t alone. Literally thousands of others are with you in this journey through self-harm to recovery; let’s take small steps forward together.

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Festival Love

Laura Haddow, Training and Marketing Manger for SelfharmUK, talks openly and honestly about how she supported her ex-partner with self-harm. She talks frankly about how lonely this can feel and ends with some encouraging words for all who may be supporting a loved one with self-harm. 

 

We first met at a festival.

It was July and I was a blue haired 16-year-old girl who sat down next to a long haired (hot) musician guy in a field and unexpectedly became swept up in a summer romance that lasted the next 5 years.

He was the singer/songwriter in a band and so insanely talented. Watching him perform on stage night after night you just couldn’t take your eyes off him, so full of energy and passion in being in the spotlight and doing what he loved.

Life moved fast and before we knew it we had moved in together and got engaged, I was smitten.

I’d never really come across self-harm before so when it first happened I didn’t really know what to feel other than panic.

Things would suddenly just overwhelm him and this wonderful outwardly happy guy would spiral fast into a very dark place where even I wasn’t allowed in to help.

I didn’t talk to anyone for years about it. It got worse and worse, the anger, the harming, I felt alone and helpless. How do you stop someone you love from hurting themselves? Was it my fault? Why was it getting worse?

I look back at myself then and wish I knew what I know now, I wish the world was as ready and open to talk about self-harm and mental health back then as it is now but it wasn’t, and whatever avenue I took for help ended in a full stop.

Maybe you relate to this? Maybe you’re watching someone you love battling with self-harm and are at a crossroads unsure of what to do or where to go for help. Here’s a few pointers that I hope will help:

 

You are not alone and you are not to blame I repeat, you are not alone and are not to blame.

You also urgently need support and you mustn’t keep handling this alone without help, it’s too hard and will start having an impact on you- find someone you trust and tell them what is going on.
Talk to your GP for advice

Get resourced with some good information around the subject and ways to support a loved one. SelfharmUK has lots of helpful information pages plus some great resources on the store especially the Parents Guide and book- Self-harm; the path to recovery).

Look after yourself as well as your loved one, it can be incredibly draining supporting someone around this issue so make sure you are taking care of your health too, talk, rest, eat well and ask for extra help when you feel you need it.

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Feel it, own it, explore it

Oby Bamidele, a qualified counsellor helps us to think about the best way to reach out and work with young people who are self-harming. She challenges us to think first about ourselves and leaves us with powerful lessons in helping young people to own and explore their pain.  

 

When I started working with young people who self-harm, I was deeply challenged in my thinking and in the way I work. I realised that in order for me to support a self-harmer I had to do the following things.

1) Challenge my own thoughts and feelings about self-harm
2) Stop trying to “fix” the self-harmer’s behaviour
3) Listen
4) Ask questions
5) Be honest and open

As soon as I began to apply the above,

I noticed a vast improvement in the way I worked with my clients. It became about understanding the emotions behind self-harm rather than focusing on self-harming itself. One thing all self-harmers have in common is emotional pain.

Emotional pain can be so intense and it can hurt just like physical pain. With physical pain you can at least pinpoint the source. Not so with emotional pain. Sometimes the busyness of the day can block it away, but soon enough that same old familiar feeling that threatens to drown, condemn and consume you resurfaces.  Self-harm itself becomes the outlet to release the emotional pain and find respite, even if just for a little while.

Listening is a major part of the work in self-harm as it allows the self-harmer to process their thoughts and feelings. There is a tendency to block off or suppress inner thoughts and feelings which are too painful to accept or perhaps we feel others will find unacceptable. However, the more you can open up to working through those feelings, the more you can understand.

I encourage my self-harmers to own their pain using the model:

 FEEL IT, OWN IT, EXPLORE IT

1) Feel your pain - When you recognise that familiar painful feeling beckoning, allow yourself a few minutes to sit and feel the pain. My emotional pain is my mind’s way of telling me that there are some deep feelings which I need to address. What is the pain you are feeling? Is it hurt, shame, anger, hate, betrayal, jealousy? Do you feel like crying?  It helps to speak out what you are feeling. For example, “I feel ashamed” “I feel like crying” “I feel horrible about myself”

2) Own Your Pain – We tend to struggle to own our pain, because it is usually associated with a judgement of ourselves and shows a side of us we don’t want to accept. For example, it might feel really difficult to own feelings of hate, shame or rejection. But the emotion already exists and until we own it we can’t address or begin to understand it.

3) Explore your pain – Once you have been through the process of feeling and owning our pain, you are then able to explore and understand it. Remember that pain is a signal that something is amiss within us.  We can use our pain to direct us to the source. What triggered the feelings? What was the experience? What does it say about you? How do you feel about you? What is the way forward?

Working through emotional pain in this way is a powerful self-awareness practice and can really heal painful emotions. 

Oby Bamidele (MBACP)
Counsellor
web: www.obybamidele.com
website: www.wisegate-schoolcounselling.co.uk

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Living free living as me

In this article SelfharmUK Project Manager Ruth Ayres sits down to talk to Oliver and Lewis about their gender identity and self-harm

SHUK: Oliver, what age did you begin self-harming?

O: I started at 11 years old, I have always struggled with talking about my emotions and I remember the exact moment my eating disorder started. I was in Paris on a school trip and my boyfriend at the time was talking to a friend and said my thighs were really fat. I look back now astonished, I was a size 10 at the time. I was nowhere near fat. But that comment had a huge effect on me. I can remember everything about that moment, from what I was wearing to the exact place we were in Paris.    

SHUK: How did you self-harm?

O: Lots of different ways, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 12, this was a lot to do with stopping my body from developing as a girl. I didn’t want that to happen. I was hospitalised for 8 months, from May to December 2013. I was force fed in that time. Not by way of a tube, but I was told, I could eat a meal or drink a high calorie drink, which I have to say tasted disgusting. I picked the drink though, because at the time the thought of chewing was awful for me.

SHUK: Really why so?

O: I don’t know; I just couldn’t cope with it.

SHUK: Were you self-harming in other ways?

O: Yeah I was cutting and I tried to take my own life, on 2 occasions.  

SHUK: Jo, (Oliver’s mum) how was it for you when you first realised Oliver was self-harming?

J: Awful, I felt like a massive failure and I was constantly asking the question why couldn’t Oliver talk to us about their feelings. Given all the jobs I have done, often in counselling and supporting young people, I felt like I had massively let Oliver down. I had to however begin to think about how we as a family helped Oliver to get better. 

SHUK: What did you want to do?

J: A combination of wrap Oliver up in cotton wool and scream at the whole world. I wanted to stop them self-harming and essentially make everything better.

SHUK: Did you at this stage have any idea why?

J: Not at all, Oliver had struggled with their transition to high school and we as parents assumed that this was the reason for their self-harm.

SHUK: Oliver, can you talk to me about your gender identity?

O: I feel totally fluid in my gender at the moment, and I am not sure if I want to fully transition my body from female to male. I am living life as me, non-defined by my gender. I would describe myself as Agender – living without gender rather than transgender.

SHUK: Do you think your self-harm was linked to your gender identity?

O: Yes; I felt a huge lack of community and acceptance, community is really important and I now feel a huge sense of belonging to the queer community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). There is a total lack of education around gender identity and we are still seen as outcasts I guess. I mean just recently 50 people were killed in Orlando, in place where they should have been safe. I think people who are exploring gender identity feel unable to come out for fear of not being accepted and loved, or killed. My self-harm was about controlling my emotions that I didn’t understand or couldn’t talk about, these emotions were linked to my gender identity.

Oliver and I had a long discussion about where they were now and they were able to express very freely the peace they now feel as a result of being agender. Oliver was clear with me that there needed to be more education around being agender, and they became incredibly passionate about the fact that people had died and the world needed educating. However, what is totally evident and what they do know is that they feel more comfortable in their own skin than ever before. They feel much more confident in expressing themselves. Oliver feels there is a sense of them being able to understand themselves and not conforming.

SHUK asked Jo what advice she would give to parents if their child is self-harming?

J: Don’t panic, talk to someone outside of the family for support and try in a very gentle non- threatening way to open up conversations with your children about self-harm.   

SHUK: Oliver, if you could go back 12 months what advice would you give yourself?

O: I would tell myself to not try and run away from my community and I would tell myself to accept that this is who I am. I would try not to be anything other than myself. I would also remind myself that being queer is empowering, not strange. It is an escape from a heteronormative society, which is something I’ve always searched for, and that one day I will finally be free to be as queer and loud as I want.

Since coming out Oliver has not self-harmed for 18 months and is doing extremely well, it is obvious from my time with them that they are at peace. Oliver is able to speak honestly and freely about who they are and I have to say they are a very inspiring person to be around.

 

Lewis Hancox is YouTube vlogger and up and coming comedy writer, with many exciting things in the firing line, he also happens to be transgender. Lewis took part in a channel 4 programme in 2011 called My Transsexual Summer, which followed 7 people at different stages of their transition. Lewis has now completed his surgery and feels far more at peace than ever living life as a man. Lewis has always identified as a heterosexual male and for him the loneliness of living as a girl was incredibly tough.

Lewis gave me some of his time over coffee one afternoon and I was able to ask him a few questions about transgender young people, suicide and self-harm. Here is what he had to say.  

SHUK: Was self-harm anything that ever you struggled with, by this I mean any area of self-harm from cutting to self-poisoning to eating disorders?

L: Well actually I was going to answer no then, but I guess you’re right, eating disorders are part of self-harm. I developed an eating disorder when I was in high school and this was due to the changes I was seeing in my body, I was desperate to not go through puberty as a girl and wanted to stop the development of my body parts as much as possible. I was diagnosed with anorexia and I knew there was something else underlying this. If I’d have known about being transgender back then this would have definitely helped, I would have felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

SHUK: Were you ever hospitalised?

L: Yeah I was, due to my periods stopping they needed to be sure that my vital organs were not shutting down. I was in for a night, they ran some tests and I was discharged. I was then referred to a counsellor.

SHUK: How can we help transgender young people around self-harm?

L: I think education on the subject is the key, when I saw my counsellor after being discharged form hospital my mum mentioned to her that when I was younger I never wanted to wear girls; clothes or be called “she”. The counsellor dismissed this and said “oh no that’s nothing, lots of young children feel that way.” She put my eating disorder down to my parents splitting up. I know that if I’d have had the space to talk about my confusion around my gender it would have been different. It’s about people being educated, especially professionals.

SHUK: Why do you think self-harm and suicide is such a massive issue in the Trans community?

L: I think there is a few reasons really, I think that people feel isolated and unaccepted and even when they have come to terms with being trans themselves they often feel isolated and rejected by their family and friends, who perhaps don’t understand. I also think a huge issue is the waiting times for people to have access to testosterone and surgery. I was rejected for my surgery in St. Helens and I waited two years for testosterone. This means that even when people have made their peace with being trans, they still feel out of control while they wait for the right support to start their transition. Self-harm is something that they can control and I think this is why it is such a big issue. I have trans friends who have self-harmed and also attempted to take their own life.

SHUK: If you could go back to in time to your younger self, what would you say?

L: I would reassure myself that I am going to live a perfectly happy life once I have transitioned and that my body isn’t the be all and end all. I would tell myself to not put my life on hold and focus on my ambitions and things that I can work towards. I feel like I lost a good few years of my life when all I could focus on was my transition and I guess a part of me regrets that now.

 

Gender continues to be a complex, challenging and difficult subject for many young people, gender identity is a concept that needs to be talked about, celebrated and accepted.

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Socrates 

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Talking To The Doctor

Here at SelfharmUK we want to help people understand their harming behaviour and explore other ways to cope with life's challenges.

If you get in touch we'll listen to your story and suggest ways to help you move forward ... but somewhere along the line we'll almost always suggest you visit your GP.  This can be a really tough thing to do, we know it can be scary, and can mean having to tell your parents too (though not always) but we believe it can be a significant step towards feeling better.

We asked GP David Roberts what you can expect when talking to your doctor about self-harm and whilst this article is only a guide - and not a definitive set of facts - we hope it will help you feel more in control, if and when, you walk into that consulting room...

Why do I have to go to the Doctor?

Self-harming is usually an indication that all is not right. People sometimes do it because it relieves internal tension and stress. It is not a very good way of doing this and like drugs, alcohol and smoking ultimately doesn't do any good. But in the short term it gives a temporary relief from emotional pain. However, it can be a symptom of a more serious mental illness and so your doctor can make sure you get the help you need.

Can I go on my own or do I have to take a parent?

You can legally go to the GP alone aged 16, but doctors can accept that you may be able to make your own decisions about your health (eg contraception) from 14 if they think you understand things and are mature enough to do so. A doctor would want you to involve your parent(s) in your care until you are 16 and are likely to encourage you. They would not give you an injection or carry out an operation, or even do an intimate (embarrassing) examination (physical check) without your parent's permission before you are 16.

How can I get ready for my appointment?

Even if you are under 16 That does not mean that you cannot talk to them about your problems or issues. It is a good idea to think about what you want to say and write the main points down. Lots of people get embarrassed at what they want to say and so don't get to the point. Doctors are busy and don't get embarrassed by what you think or say, so it is better to take a deep breath and say it right at the beginning rather than put it off. They won't mind and it will give them more time to talk to you than if you spend the first five minutes talking about a rash that no one can see because it really isn't there!  Think about what you want to get out of the appointment - do you just want to tell someone and get it off your chest, do you want help stopping it, do you want them to refer you on to someone who could give you specialist help? If you tell them what you want then they can work out how best to support you.

What will happen if I say I self harm?

Self harming is quite common and they will have seen other people who do it. So they won't be shocked, but they will be concerned. The biggest concern they would have is that you might want to kill yourself. Not many people who self harm want to do this but doctors have a professional duty to assess the risk of that happening. they are obliged to keep what you say confidential and private between you and them, unless you tell them something that they think might indicate that your health is seriously at risk (or you might be planning to do something that might endanger someone else) - see later - in which case they may be obliged to break your confidence. They should tell you this. They will want to help you, and so if you have plucked up courage to tell them, they will try to find ways to do that.

What will they ask me?

This might include asking some deep questions which you might find embarrassing: don't be though, they're only trying to work out what's making you do this. They'll ask about cutting, taking drugs, overdoses, and other ways you might be tempted to hurt yourself. They may ask you about how you feel (low, depressed, crying, worried, frightened, angry) and how things are at home or school or work.  If they feel you trust them they might ask you to come back again to see them, and they might suggest that they refer you on to see a specialist from the CAMH service (people who work most of their time with young people with similar problems). They might encourage you to speak to a counsellor at school, particularly if there is someone there you feel you can talk to. They will want to know why you have come to see them at that time and to find out what help you want them to give you. You may not be able to say this, but if you've thought about it beforehand it will help.

Do they have to tell my parents?

They are obliged in law to protect you and others from actions you might take that might harm you or others. But they need to check how likely your might be to do something you say you want to do so they will question you quite hard. If you are under 16 and they think you are suicidal (or planning a murder!) they will have to tell your parents or other authorities. They will still encourage you to involve your parents as they have legal responsibility for you, but if the risk is low in their view, they will try their best to keep what you say confidential.

Will I have to show them where I have self-harmed?

They can't and won't force you (unless they are seriously worried about you being in danger and even then they will ask for advice from someone who specialises in child protection). They will want to assess how bad your injuries are - you might need antibiotics if your cuts are infected, and you might need dressings to protect the wounds.

Remember they aren't easily shocked or embarrassed and really want to help you - showing them the extent of your cutting will help them work out how serious the problem is and how to get you the best help.

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Alternatives and Distractions

Sometimes when that urge to self harm arises, it can be extremely difficult to fight, and that’s completely normal. Everyone is different, everyone self harms for different reasons, and in the same way, everyone will have different alternatives and distractions that may work for them. One thing may work for one person, and may not necessarily work for another. There will be times where something that has worked before, may not work for you in that moment.

Many of you have offered a number of strategies that work for you, so we thought it would be helpful to put these into one place...

  • Scribble or draw something, perhaps how you are feeling
  • Splatter paint onto paper
  • Write down your feelings – sometimes it helps to get out how you’re feeling, and see it on paper. You can even rip this up after you are done.
  • Knitting
  • Write a letter to someone or yourself and don’t send it. This could even be a positive letter to your younger self
  • Create a scrap book
  • Write three positive statements about yourself
  • Make a positive jar, where you write down positive things about yourself, words of encouragement or any positive memories you have, and then when you are having a low day or the urge to self harm, you can take them out of the jar and read through them
  • Punch a pillow/something soft
  • Scream outloud or into a cushion
  • Rip pages out of an old book or rip up paper
  • Exercise
  • Go for a walk
  • Snapping twigs
  • Hitting a rolled up piece of newspaper against a door frame
  • Play with playdough/plasticine or roll it around in your hands
  • Listen to music
  • Sing at the top of your voice
  • Dance around to a song
  • Watch a film you love or spend some time on youtube watching some of your favourite video clips
  • Read a book
  • Talk to someone
  • Make yourself busy and tidy your room
  • Rubix cube
  • Baking
  • Play a game on your phone/console or computer
  • Eat your favourite food
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Online shopping – you don’t need to buy anything, but could just have a browse
  • Repetitive/therapuetic tasks such as washing up, something where you keep your hands busy
  • Wrap the part you harm and sleep it off
  • Drawing on yourself where you want to harm could work for you, drawing in red will also give the impression of blood
  • Holding, squeezing or rubbing ice where you want to harm can give the same kind of sensation
  • Have a nice and relaxing bubble bath
  • Having a rubber band around your wrist can always be an alternative, pinging it against yourself when having the urge to self harm

You could also... Make a Distraction Box!

In a distraction box, you can put any of these things mentioned above in it, and all sorts of things that make you smile. This could be photos of places you’ve been or people you love. A blanket, your favourite chocolate bar, favourite film or book, lots of creative bits and bobs…. It’s totally up to you! You could add in phone numbers of people you could call, or helplines. 

If you have any more distractions or alternatives that work for you, please share them in the comments below!

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