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Dedicated to self-harm recovery, insight and support.

Taking Pride in who I am

The Pride celebrations in London are over for another year, but coming out can still feel like a struggle. The blog post below was written by Lydia. She hopes you find it helpful.

Coming out for many people is hard. But not for everyone. My own experiences shone a light on how enlightening this experience and care free it can be. In the past month I have finally come out as bisexual. 

Before it happened I was petrified, being bisexual was never something I was completely sure on. Liking someone of the same sex I had never denied the possibility but I had also never embraced it until it happened. My own experiences of coming out might be or have been extremely different from anyone else. Everyone is different that's how we're made and how we experiences life is also extremely different from one another. 

Coming out for me felt like I was finally being able to be who I wanted to be and like who I wanted to like. I had decided years before I was going to wait until I found someone of the same sex before I came out as bisexual. This decision was made by myself so I could find someone who I liked and take it at my own pace. The decision was also made so I myself I knew I like the same sex more than as friends since it was something I had questioned. And it happened. I found her. And it was like a tsunami sweeping me away when it happened. It was the most liberating and freeing thing I could have ever experienced. But fear also began to consume me. I had never dated a girl before so what would everyone think? But I thought about it, a lot. And I came to realise that there's millions of people out there who identify themselves in the LGTBQI society. I wasn't alone in this and this wasn't uncommon thing to be going through. Telling my family was the easy bit, luckily for me they were accepting and weren't phased by me being with a girl. My friends, what can I say? They were great about it, confused and questioning where it had come from but supportive. 

The impact coming out has had on my life has been incredibly positive. It's helped me overcome so many battles and issues and made me realise that it's okay to be myself. I've realised that the people who will talk are the people who don't understand and that's ok, that's not your fault, it's up to them to educate themselves. It also been a way of me accepting myself more and learning to love myself for who I am. Because I am a strong independent woman who falls in love with whoever I want to and I won't conform to  anyone's expectations. I highly recommend for those still in question about coming out to do it. Because you in yourself will feel so much better for it. 

To sum coming out in one word I'd use ‘empowering’. 

You can check out Lydia's blog and vlogging links here.

You can also visit the Stonewall website for further support.

For more information about self-harm in LGBTQI young people, check out our Facts page.

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I feel the urge

The piece below was written by Jo Fitzsimmons, a member of the SelfharmUK Team. The urge to self-harm is often all consuming and when it comes, it's hard to think of anything else! Next time you feel the urge to self-harm, try slowly reading this outloud, whilst breathing deeply.

 

I am twitchy, full of nervous energy

I can’t sit still, I can’t focus,

I am breathing quickly,

I am wringing my hands.

 

I try to calm myself

I try to take control

The thoughts are coming quickly

Spiralling into my head

My breathing gets faster

 

I must take control

 

Slow

Slow    slow      slow      slow

Slow

I tell myself

 

The battle is done – I make the choice

 

Run on the spot

Clench my fists

Breathe          Breathe          Breathe

Run on the spot

Clench my fists

Breathe         Breathe           Breathe

 

I feel the urge

 

                             Slow                             Slow                                     Slow

 

I match my breathing to the dogs

I bite my hands and wait

 

And wait

 

And wait

 

The tears begin to flow

 

The urge has passed

 

I made the choice

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Fear

We don’t often recognise fear in ourselves – perhaps we cover it with anger (at the thing we are fearful about) or shame (that we feel scared); fear is powerful and hinders us in so many areas of our lives.

As humans we are built with a ‘fight or flight’ response in our brains, this means we either stand and literally fight when we are scared or we run from the thing that scares us. But what do we do if the thing that scares us, is us?

Whether it be fear of our feelings and that we might act on those deep feelings; whether it be of a person we fear for what they might say to us or do to hurt us; whether it be the fear of feeling which cripples us – Fear is hard to overcome.

Often the feeling of fear is mixed with feeling anxious. Perhaps you get a bad tummy and have to run to the loo, maybe you take too many pills to ease the worry, you might cut to try and take away the fear – however you try and deal with it, here are a few ideas to help reduce the fear inside:

Acknowledge it. Learn to recognise which feelings inside you are which; fear feels different to anger, but often anger is an emotion that is secondary. If you are feeling angry a lot, ask yourself ‘is there another feeling underneath it’?

Get fear out of you. The more fear comes out from inside us, the less power it has to stop us living our life. Whether you are able to speak it by telling someone, whether you write out what it is that you are fearing, whether you draw it, whether you text it; get it out. It’s like a Harry Potter dementor, it will suck life from you.

Breathe. The more scared we are, the less we breathe, the less we breathe, the more we have panic attacks.

While you are calm, practise breathing slowing, count breaths in and out, teach yourself to breath slowly so the blood and oxygen allow you to continue to think clearly and remain calm.

Be active. Fear creates adrenalin in us, this makes us feel on edge and twichy. Work with your body, if you are feeling like this; do a work out, find a yoga clip on youtube, go for a run, repeatedly punch a pillow – let the adrenalin out of your system so you can calm down.

Deal with the fear. The hardest one of all: can you deal with the actual issue of your fear? Is there any solution or resolution in facing the issue or person that is making you feel this fearful? Currently the person or situation is ruling your life and hindering you flourishing: what, if anything, can you do to change that?

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Dear Reader

The blog post below was written by a lovely lady called Emma, who got in touch with SelfharmUK to share her story about her recovery from bulimia and self-harm.

Dear Reader,

What I am writing here is really a love letter to my younger self, and I hope that it will help you too.  You see, I grew up not knowing how to love myself.  In fact, it felt selfish to do that. I felt, for many, many years, that I was somehow a bad and unlovable person.  I developed a lot of ‘coping strategies’ to keep myself feeling that I could not be hurt by other people.

I don’t know what tactics you are using, but mine were mainly around pretending: pretending to be confident, pretending to be friendly, pretending to be happy, pretending to be transparent and open – and all the time, inside, I hated myself (and many of them), I didn’t trust anyone, I was self-harming, bulimic and generally wishing that I was dead. 

There is so much stigma about mental health, when all it really is – is some sad memories and an imbalance of the chemicals in our brain. Isn’t it weird that society makes it seem more than that? That we feel embarrassed to be sick? Stupid, isn’t it. Well – I’m not embarrassed anymore. I am proud – very, very proud for having the courage to say I was sick, and continuing my journey to get well.

People often think that when we have depression and anxiety or hurt ourselves, we are being selfish – that we are ‘wrapped up’ in ourselves. I often found that people criticised me in that way. And yet I felt that I was living for others. I must have been – because I didn’t love myself enough to be living for me – back then…

You know what? Self-harm is not selfish. It’s self-preservation. The pain in the heart is so strong that sometimes you feel like you want to just smash the world apart, hit people, break things, scream, set the world on fire, destroy your life and that of those around you.  So, instead of doing those things, we turn the pain inwards and cut, scrape, pick, harm our own bodies… or stuff our bellies and throw it up… or refuse to eat… because for a little while we get to be in control, we get to decide - and while we are feeling that physical pain, we get some relief from the torture inside our chemically unbalanced little minds and our sad hearts.

I don’t know your exact circumstances or what you are doing to yourself in order to try to handle those very difficult feelings. But let me tell you something, I know for a fact that you are trying! I know for a fact that, right now, as you read this blog, you are doing your very best to try and get well.  People who want to stay depressed, anxious or unhappy do not surf the internet to find blogs like this one. Because you are looking for advice and help, you are on your way towards health.

Let that be a source of hope for you. I am so proud of you for investing in yourself by reading this blog. We have never met, but I promise you, you are more deeply loved than you can ever imagine. Recovery is not easy, but you can get well – and you have already started your journey of recovery. Keep going! I promise you, you can do this. I know you find it so very hard to believe – but I promise you, you can.

Lots of love,

Emma

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Self-harm Challenges

Hope is the author of 'Stand Tall Little Girl', a book about her eating disorder struggles. Here she talks openly about why young people struggle to express their emotions and why self-harm challenges might be on the rise.

When you walk down the road you have no idea what other people are going through, what they are thinking, or what their history is. When people look on at me they assume I am a happy young girl living in London. But in reality everyone has their own story and their reasons for acting the way they do.

Researching methods of self-harm have never been easier, and the world we live in sometimes means that people find it easier to self-harm than to admit they are struggling. 

Last year, NHS figures showed that the number of young people self-harming had increased. It was sad but at the same time intriguing. The figures emphasized that numbers of young girls being admitted to hospital for self -harm had quadrupled, and the number of young boys cutting themselves had also increased by 186%.  This got me thinking – why now?

Why did I as a young person and why do so many other young people struggle to express their emotions? Is there more pressure today on people generally and do people feel that self-harm challenges are becoming more of a thing? More fashionable? 

I believe the answer to all those questions is yes. Much of this is fueled by self-harm methods such as the salt and ice challenge or the blue whale challenge being discussed so openly in chat rooms. If you scroll through these pages you come across people from around the country offering advice, methods and their thoughts. 

These chat rooms fuel this epidemic. They bring young people in to a false sense of security.

For me growing up, my self-harm came out in not eating and damaging my body through over-exercising. Anorexia was my way of challenging emotional pain and my way of being in control. I challenged those intense emotions that I did not know how to cope with and emotions that I definitely did not want to feel. And I had an element of what I thought was control over my life through limiting my food intake.

When I was 17 I was admitted to a mental health hospital where I lived for a year recovering. I spent a year talking about how I felt, putting on weight so I was healthy and learning how to manage moving forward. It was one of the hardest years of my life but it taught me about the importance of sharing how I feel.

For people with any mental health problem, sharing how you feel can sometimes feel so hard. You might feel like a burden or afraid of what will happen if you do share how you feel, but you mustn’t feel like that. It is so important to talk, share your feelings and find people that you can be honest with. I know that from talking about how I felt - this is something that has kept me well.

You are probably reading this blog feeling like I am lecturing, feeling like I have no idea where you are or why you feel how you do. But I get it. The thrill of missing a meal, surviving off of nothing before going for long runs left me with a similar sensation.  

Self-harm may feel like it sorts you and comforts you, gives you some element of control… but in reality it is not doing that.  

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Embrace the Change

Bethany Murray has been known to SelfharmUK for a long time and is an inspirational young person who has overcome some challenging things in her life. She shares openly with us about the struggles she is facing as she transitions to university and gives some hints to help us in our own transitions. 

Earlier this week I posted this tweet:   "Yes I am rather melodramatic but I feel like my heart is being ripped out when I think of everything being left behind as I move to uni." 

At the end of this week I am moving to the other side of the country to study psychology at uni. It's scary. It's a massive change. I am in a period of transition. And, in all honestly I feel a real fear about starting this new phase of life. 

Change is one of the most common things people feel afraid of. Myself included.  

What's interesting, is that things have changed in my life before...obviously. Life, for each of us, is made up of many different chapters and phases. Before each of these times of significant change in my life I've felt this horrible anxious almost heartbroken feeling. Moving house, starting secondary school, my brother and sister leaving home etc. etc. 

I have three simple things I am holding onto at the moment as I enter this new period of change and tradition. If you're feeling similarly worried or overwhelmed while being faced with change in your life, I want to suggest repeating after me: 

I have already survived many big changes in my life.
Positive things have often come from changes that I once spent many nights crying over.
If nothing ever changed I would still be wearing a nappy and having my bum wiped. 

Change can make us feel scared, uncertain, overwhelmed, bereft, heartbroken and regretful. Yet we must remember that change is good and change is necessary.

Without change we don't grow. We don't have a chance to implement things we've learnt. We aren't able to learn new things. We can't experience more of the amazing world we live in. Without change we wouldn’t be able to find out about things that we currently have no knowledge or experience of. Without change we cannot reach our full potential.  

When I know a big change is happening in my life, the thing I struggle with most is the "what ifs?". 

What if I make no friends at uni?

What if I get behind on work?

What if I get lost in a big new city? 

What if people at home forget about me? 

What if I don't have the help I need? 

What if…

What if… 

What if…

"What if" thoughts come from a place of insecurity. Of anxiety. These "what if" thoughts are never likely to be projecting a positive forecast. And so that's where I have learnt to intervene. My brain chatters away and my thoughts are swirling with fear and uncertainty and all I can imagine is complete and utter catastrophe and so I force myself to imagine a positive scenario for each negative "what if". 

What if I meet my life long best friend at uni? 

What if the work isn't as hard as I’m imagining? 

What if I discover beautiful corners of a new city? 

What if writing letters to people at home becomes a new favourite hobby?

What if I meet new people who help me more than anyone I've met before?

What if… 

What if…

What if… 

For me, as someone who has struggled with self-harm and mental illness for a long time, I know times of transition are particularly difficult. I have noticed negative patterns during these times and are often when I struggle most.  And so I have now worked on strategies that help me cope. 

Acknowledging that loss is a real part of change is important. With any change happening in life, you will be losing something that has been positive. Even exciting changes may bring sadness about some elements of your life ceasing to be the way they were. It's okay to feel sad about these things. It's okay to need some time to process that. 

Focusing on the positives sounds a cliché piece of advice but, it's still probably the best I can give. Sometimes things change in life for very negative reasons, but a lot of the transitions we face in life have many pros as well as the cons we may be focusing on. Keeping these in mind, even writing them down is really helpful.

Finding supportive people with whom you can talk through these fears with will make a real difference. For me, my anxiety gets worse the more time I’m left to think things through alone without another more rational voice. Having people I know I can speak to when I’m facing a difficult change or time of transition is so important. These people make me think about whether the things I worry about happening are actually likely and help me put plans in place for coping with different eventualities.

I want to finish this blog post with a quote that helps me greatly.

“When we make a change, it’s so easy to interpret our unsettledness as unhappiness, and our unhappiness as a result of having made the wrong decision. Our mental and emotional states fluctuate madly when we make big changes in our lives, and some days we could tight-rope across Manhattan, and other days we are too weary to clean our teeth. This is normal. This is natural. This is change.” – Jeanette Winterson

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Making Time For Me

It has taken me a while to find the time to sit down and write this …that sums up who I am now.

I love to be busy all the time but I really treasure the moments when I can sit quietly or get some stuff done for me. It’s another kind of achievement, one I know I need to factor in to my week, but it hasn’t always been this way.

Being busy is something I get from my family and something that I now love. However, when I was younger, I used being busy to not let myself have time to think. I didn’t like the idea of being alone with my own thoughts; it’s a strange feeling being scared of yourself.

The problem was that I didn’t leave myself time to process, things would build up and I would need to find a release.  As with finding time to write this, it would take me a while to be able to tell anyone how I was feeling or to find the words to explain it. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful, strong, caring family, but I could not bring myself to admit that I was feeling this way or doing something that I knew deep-down wasn’t really a solution.

For me, self-harm was a quick way to release the very physical feeling of stress that I felt but it was always followed, by an equally horrible feeling of guilt. Guilt because I couldn’t pinpoint why I felt this way and therefore felt I had no right to. And guilt at how it would make those who loved me feel when they found out. For a long time I hid the results but not talking about it would make the feeling worse and kept me stuck in the cycle. I had to speak to someone and for me that person was my mum.

Yes I could see that it upset her, of course it would, but when I wasn’t able to see a solution, she was able to be rational, to talk me through it and offer a solution even if I couldn’t identify the exact reasons. When I panicked about leaving the house in the morning for school, often turning it in to frustrated anger directed at her, she would sit with me to help me feel calm and ready to face the world. She didn’t force me to stop or force me to talk to anyone else. She helped me make my own decisions and find other ways to deal with life’s challenges.

I don’t say thank you to her enough. I am lucky to have this support base and while I have learnt to leave my guilt, my only regret is not to speaking about it sooner. I am not perfect now, sometimes I still struggle, but instead of being scared of myself, I talk to my family. That may be my parents or sister, or the family I have made myself in my friends and my boyfriend. Now I enjoy opportunities to be with myself; I believe we all need that time in order to appreciate the other moments in life, especially those with the people who care about us.

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Coping With Scars

Whether you’re currently in the midst of struggling with self harm, giving up, or have stopped for years, scars can be a difficult part of self harm to deal with. I’d say I’ve pretty much accepted my scars now, yet sat on a coach writing this, bare arms, I still find myself automatically trying to cover up as someone walks past my seat.

When you were younger, did you love to show your grazes and cuts to others when you were injured from maybe climbing a tree, or doing something adventurous? Feeling proud and wanting to tell everyone how you got that injury, and even once it had healed, still showing off your scars, no matter how big or small it was?

As we grow up, this can still be the case, but scars from self harm can leave us feeling ashamed, disgusted or angry at ourselves, and are certainly something we wouldn’t point out to everyone. We even go that bit further and make the effort to actively hide them - to avoid exposing our secret, avoid the stares or questions, avoid being made to feel uncomfortable.

I really like the theme this month – Survival Scars. It makes you look at scars in a different way. They make me think of coming out of a battle, like warriors with scars, reminding us that we fought and survived. I’ve found that the way we view scars makes a huge difference when coping with them.

Being able to cope with your scars doesn’t necessarily mean showing them off. Scars are there whether we hide them or not. I think coping with scars, for me, is about acceptance. The more we accept our scars, the easier we will find it to cope with them.

A few important things to remember:

> Scars may not be as obvious as we think they are to other people. Because we know they’re there it means we’re naturally going to be more aware of them.

> One day your scars could give you the opportunity to help someone else on their journey.

> They show that through deep emotional pain, you strove to survive – so if people stare or make comments about them, don’t be ashamed, they don’t know your story and how far you’ve come.

> If you have worries about later on in life, about how you’ll deal with your scars in marriage/if you have children etc. Don’t worry about that right now, you don’t know how far you will have come by then, and it may not be a worry at all when you reach that point

Accepting your scars is a process, it may be difficult at first, but just as wounds take time to heal, so does how you view your scars. Each person is different so what could take months for one person could take years for someone else, and that’s totally okay.

Your scars are a sign of survival and healing, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that. You made it out of battle, and that is awesome.

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It's Better to Talk

What would stop me from telling someone about my self harm? Probably the jokes people make about it - it is frowned upon and often laughed about instead of being taken seriously. A common myth is that only “goths” or “emos” do it, that it's for attention, being part of a trend or belonging to that certain culture involving black clothes, darkness and self hating. I was worried I would be seen as a freak under the assumption I was doing it for the wrong reasons. But you cannot assume someone is doing it for a particular reason, you have no idea what they are feeling or the thoughts happening inside their head. Not everyone who self harms is ‘crazy’, not eveyone who self harms wants to kill themselves, not everyone who self harms is attention seeking.

One of the reasons for me personally, was a way of punishing myself for not being 'good enough'. It was a coping mechanism, and a way to turn those bad feelings into something physical and being able to let the pain out. It was, in truth, probably a cry for help, I was always trying my best to cover up and hide it but also secretly hoping someone might see, just so they knew something was wrong. I was ashamed of doing it, after all, so many people go through undeserving suffering caused by an illness or disease when they would choose not to, and what I was doing was self imposed. I would have pangs of guilt for someone worrying about me for something I'd done to myself on purpose, and this held me back from telling anyone.

However, even though I didn't like talking about it with anyone, the last time I did, the person I spoke to was supportive. They didn't fully understand as it’s hard to grasp the extent of it when you haven't been through it yourself. But despite this, the worries in my head and the myths out there, they were still supportive!

I still find it uncomfortable to talk about sometimes, but, it’s so much better to talk about self harm more to reduce the stigma surrounding it. It is something that should be taken very seriously, and it is important to remember the signs may not be so obvious, and there will be mental pain as well as physical.

It is so important to address it with compassion rather than disgust.

If I could give any advice to someone learning of a person they know self-harming, it would be to listen and take time to respond. Always offer support and words of encouragement instead of reacting negatively.

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What Myths are Holding You Back?

We all believe things that other people tell us. Remember the time your mum told you to eat your carrots because they will make your eyes better? And the day your best mate joked that if you swallowed an apple seed a tree would grow inside of you? What about the bus ride home your older sibling said they had swallowed chewing gum and it was going to stay inside of them for seven years?

We believe people and we evaluate our choices based upon previous responses and personal beliefs.

During the years that I self harmed in Secondary School it was much easier to hide or lie about the marks on my arm instead of having to explain the complicated feelings that were dominating 90% of my waking thoughts. I didn’t feel loved or valued enough and I feared that if people knew they would love and value me even less. As much as I desperately wanted my friends to help me and advise me, wearing a jumper or twenty bracelets on my forearm was the easier option. To not self-harm was to be normal and that’s what I was trying to put across with all my might. 

I built up these myths in my head, I told them to myself daily to make sure the secret wouldn’t come out and the whole class didn’t think I was crazy.

“If you tell them, they won’t be your friend.”

“If you tell them, you will lose your value.”

“If you tell them, they will think you are crazy.”

My inner commentary was stuck on repeat.

I didn’t want to forfeit being loved by telling my friends about a few cuts on my arm. It didn’t seem worth it.

As I’ve been recovering over the last few years I have realised the importance of honesty. I have learnt that true friends will love you and value you for who you are. Even if you are in your lowest place, friends will be the people who pick you up, encourage you and set you back on the path. When you’ve relapsed for the third time in one week, friends are the ones who will give you a positive text, a smile and a hug. Real friends will be there for you no matter what the myths are that you tell yourself.

Self-harming does not make you any less of a person or any less worthy of being on this earth. It’s okay to be scared, talking about self harm isn’t like talking about any other injury, it has deep emotions attached to it. Our lives are fragile and it’s okay to struggle with showing the true you for fear of shame or embarrassment.

I challenge you to think about some of the myths you have built up. What’s holding you back? What do you fear most? What myth about sharing what you’re going through has controlled you for too long?

You matter, you are important. No myth you tell yourself about what others may think of you can take your value away. Recovery is done in community and you deserve friends to walk beside you, encouraging you and teaching you your true worth. 

Caitlin loves the seaside, loves community and is passionate about using her experiences of mental health to encourage and help others. She is currently living in lovely Brighton studying for a degree in International Development and Anthropology, however, spends most of her time eating cake, helping out at church and blogging. You can find her at caitlinfaithcollins.wordpress.com or touring the coffee shops of Brighton.

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