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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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Expectations and dread...

Some people like this lead up to Christmas, some (like me and my family!), really don’t!

The Christmas decorations look pretty and the shops get busier and the Christmas feeling is in the air – but it doesn’t make me get the warm Christmas glow; in fact it begins to make me stressed right from the moment it starts…

The pressure for the perfect film like Christmas family gathering is unachievable – the perfect family game time; the perfect present wrapping, the perfect friends to go out with, the perfect family to share it will – perfection doesn’t exist, in any place at any time.

The media Christmas portrayal adds to our sense of dread – the pressure to smile, laugh, not row, not feel sad – can make us feel very detached from Christmas: so this year, in the lead up here are some tips:

1. Ignore TV films and adverts! We aren’t going to reach a Hollywood Christmas ideal – so let’s not bother. Watch Elf and comedies – they keep a good perspective on it!

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2. Try to imagine Christmas day now – what works for you? Do you need to communicate any of that to your family – who don’t you want to see over Christmas? How long do you have to visit relatives for? Begin to start the conversations now so they don’t come as a shock to your family – take control and be prepared to compromise.

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3. Make stuff – loads and loads of stuff! Don’t buy it, make it. Keep your hands and mind busy, the  personal stuff doesn’t need to cost much nor does it have to be perfect – enjoy the process and the result.

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4. Don’t give yourself sky high expectations of yourself over Christmas. If you need to take regular breaks from family, do it. Look after yourself now so that you have the energy for it as it gets closer; plan out the Christmas holidays so that you get a good balance of rest and play.

via GIPHY

Love,

The SelfharmUK Team

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Because I can

Caroline wrote this blog about her experience walking 630 miles along the South West Coast path in a year, and raising £1150 for SelfharmUK! She hopes what she's achieved will encourage and inspire you.  

Walking the South West Coast path has been the most challenging thing I have ever done. 630 miles in one year on some of the toughest terrain on any National trail was quite a daunting prospect, but I was determined that I would ‘conquer’ it. When asked why I reply simply “because I can”.

During the walk I crossed 230 bridges, opened and closed 880 gates, climbed over 436 stiles, and went up or down over 30,000 steps.

I fell over numerous times, fortunately landed on my bum most times, I broke my shoulder bone and I broke my leg … fortunately it was my prosthetic one!!!

Raising money for charity was an important part of this walk and I chose to raise money for selfharmUk as they are close to my heart. 

I self-harmed for a while when I was younger and never understood why. SelfharmUK has some amazing resources and I wish that they had been so easily available to me. Now a member of my family has recently self harmed and has found the resources available extremely helpful. 

I started out wanting a personal challenge and I have to say that this has certainly been that.  From open clifftop paths, to muddy woodland trails, through beautiful picturesque villages, to long sandy beaches. I’ve seen tin mines, caves and hidden coves, seals, skylarks and surfers, lighthouses, fishing boats, lots and lots of water and so much more!  

It has been a walk and an experience of a lifetime and although it was extremely tough at times it has been thoroughly rewarding and a thrill to be able to support SelfharmUK along the way.

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Luton Half Marathon

Hey, I’m John and I’m a local pastor in Luton. On the 29th October I’ll be running the Luton Half Marathon to raise money for SelfharmUK. Here’s why.

I was in the cafe part of our church just a couple of days ago. I was chatting to one of our regulars and they were telling me about their childhood. He said because of pressure and home and at school, he began to resent who he was. He felt extreme anxiety when he went out to meet with people and felt like it took longer and longer to put on his “happy mask”  when he he went outside. He said he began to self harm early in life because it was easier to release the tension in his body than it was to release the tension in his mind. 

On one hand, his story isn’t the first I have heard. I think many people I know could talk about someone they care about who might self harm or who might have experienced in a friend or family member. On the other hand, every single story makes me stop and catch my breath. It’s not normal, and it shouldn’t ever become normalised. Something is very wrong here.

I don’t want to pretend I know all about the problem. I don’t. It’s big and complex. But I want to raise as much cash as I can for SelfharmUK because they believe in young people living full lives. They believe that the next generation could grow up to love themselves and their Alumina programme is making a huge difference in the amount of young people who can access help and support. 

I’m not a very good runner and this run has cost me hours of training, hours away from my family and I have often come home feeling that little people have been punching my legs. But we are excited about trying to reach a big target. So SelfharmUK and I would appreciate all the donations and social shares you can offer us. Also, if you are in Luton on 29th October, come out and support with a bag of jelly babies!

You can sponsor John here.

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Anger

Matt talks to us about Anger.

SelfharmUK vlog: Anger
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New website!

Welcome to our brand-new website! We are so excited to be sharing with you all the weeks and months of work we have been doing to try and get this right. The first thing that you may notice is that we now have three very specific areas for the main people that visit our site. This is so you can feel totally at home sharing any stories or questions you have, knowing that parents and professionals won’t see it. Please be aware if we are really worried about you we may need to pass this information on.

To post content and to see what other people have posted you must be logged in, you can do this by clicking the register button and filling in the form that follows. 

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Please give us honest information, we may need this in the future to help keep you safe.

We want you to feel at home here, we want to try and help you build a safe online community that helps you begin to share how you are feeling about your self-harm and meet other people who can help you in this journey. Sometimes we will comment on your posts, but overall, we want you to have the space to help and support each other where you can.

The site is broken down into different places for you to get the help and support you need we have our main chat space where you can upload appropriate pictures, questions and tell us your story. When you post on that page you get to choose your colour background, your font and picture so it feels more personal to you. 

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We want you to feel supported in your times of crisis and have somewhere to take your concerns and fears when you feel lost and alone. This main chat forum and space is for you to help and support one another. This will be monitored, please remember we are all about pro-recovery here so be sensitive and supportive to everyone needs.

We will also be hosting live chat sessions where we will look at a whole series of topics from anxiety to LGBTQ+ to depression and many more. These sessions will start on the 1st November 2017 at 7pm. They will run for approximately 30-40 minutes and will be held once a week on a Wednesday evening. These are completely informal and will be hosted in a chat room format. We would love you to come along when you can. You can find the links to these chat rooms and a little bit about what we will be discussing that week under the help button on the main page of our website.

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Finally, when you are ready we have our weekly support group called Alumina, you can find information about this and sign up under the Alumina tab in the main menu. This is a more intentional form of support and we would love to welcome you when you feel ready.

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If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions please contact us at info@selfharm.co.uk and we will try and see if we can help. We really want you to feel supported in this journey and have the space to share your experience. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and like us on Facebook

Love,

The SelfharmUK Team x

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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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4 things you need to know when you've been diagnosed with a mental health problem

The article below was written by Mike Jones, a fighter against mental illness stigma. By creating www.schizlife.com, he hopes to shed some light on the symptoms of schizophrenia, how to help someone dealing with it, as well as the stereotypes surrounding this disorder.

A diagnosis of a mental health problem can feel like a ton of bricks has just come pounding down around you. Things might feel overwhelming, almost as if the world is spinning out of control. You might be wondering if things will ever get better. Don't worry, all of this is completely normal. The most important thing to remember is that you really are in control of your life.

1.    You are not the only one and your mental health problem does not define you

When you look around, it might seem as if you're the only person dealing with something this difficult. You couldn't be more mistaken. One out of every ten children faces a similar battle. Demi Lovato, Angelina Jolie, Russel Brand, and Kristin Bell have all struggled with mental health issues. It's simply more common than you think. Just because you don't hear your friends talking about it doesn't mean they aren't grappling with their own mental health difficulties.

You're a complex person with unique talents, likes, dislikes, and tastes. Maybe you're creative, a great friend, or an amazing artist. Do you despise tomatoes, love pasta, and adore dogs? Whoever you are, you already were, before learning of your mental health diagnosis. Your gifts and talents are still there. And whatever you love to hate, is too! Your mental illness is just as much a part of you as your gifts, talents, and pet peeves. All of these things together create the amazing person you are, but no single one defines you. Your mental illness is not who you are.

2.    Knowing your diagnosis gives you power

A mental health diagnosis names the thoughts and behaviors that have been getting in the way of your goals and dreams. Now you have the opportunity to take control of your life. Knowledge is power. With your diagnosis, you have access to important information and resources that will allow you to determine how to face the obstacles created by your mental health.

You're in the driver's seat now. You get to choose how to address this challenge. On the Be Vocal website, Demi Lovato describes her feelings and the actions she took after finding out about her mental illness. "Getting a diagnosis was kind of a relief. It helped me start to make sense of the harmful things I was doing to cope with what I was experiencing. Now I had no choice but to move forward and learn how to live with it, so I worked with my health care professional and tried different treatment plans until I found what works for me." That worked out pretty well for her!

3.    What other people think is not your problem

Having a strong social support network is extremely important when it comes to managing your mental health problem. Don't allow the stigma associated with mental health to convince you to accept a sense of shame and stop reaching out to people. Take responsibility for your own sense of safety. You decide who to talk to, how much to disclose, and under what circumstances.

A random individual's inability to behave rationally says nothing about you and a great deal about them. Understand that your judgement in these matters will never be perfect. That's part of the learning process. Over time it will become easier and you'll get better at learning who to trust, how much to disclose, and under what circumstances you feel comfortable discussing things that make you vulnerable. But never stop building your tribe.

4.    You still get to decide who you want to be

Part of growing up, even for teens without mental health struggles, is figuring out how to exist as a unique individual in this world. What kind of person do you want to be? What footprint do you want to leave? Do you want to be someone who lives in fear? Or do you want to rise to the challenge of honoring the entirety of who you are? Do you have the courage to refuse to allow others to treat you in ways lacking in courtesy and respect? Do you know how to set limits while still remaining faithful to your own values?

Dealing with a diagnosis of mental illness forces you to consciously address these questions now instead of later. This gives you an opportunity to walk consciously and with grace into adulthood. Your diagnosis has given you the chance to begin asking and answering the questions that give a life meaning. Find your answers and then systematically implement them in the way you structure your days.

You always have choices. Always. Mental illness does not take away your power. Don't let anyone tell you that it does. You are strong enough to manage this. Ask questions, reach out, make decisions, and shape your own life. How are you going to face this? What's your plan of action? What steps are you going to take to soften the sharp and painful edges of the symptoms of your mental illness so that you stay on top of its ups and downs? No one is saying that this will be easy. But it absolutely can be done.

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Sexuality and Self-harm

Lahna talks to us about Sexuality and Self-harm

SelfharmUK vlogs: Sexuality and Self-harm

 Some useful links:

SelfharmUK (that's us!): selfharm.co.uk

Mermaids (Trans* charity): mermaids.org.uk

Albert Kennedy Trust (LGBTQ+ charity): akt.org.uk

Stonewall (LGBTQ+ charity): stonewall.org.uk

Mind (Mental Health Charity): mind.org.uk

Childline (Child Support Charity): childline.org.uk or 0800 1111 or app "For You"

Young Minds (Mental Health Charity): youngminds.org.uk or Parents Helpline 0808-802-5544

For LGBTQ+ groups near you
 

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Self-harm and School #educating

Has anyone been watching ‘Educating Manchester’?

There was a lovely girl on there who was having a crud time – her background was tough, sad and difficult. Teachers were trying to support her but she wanted desperately to leave school, stay home and manage life her way.

She was self-harming.

As her story unfolded, we heard her pain – she lost her mum at a very young age, bought up brilliantly by grandad, struggled with her emotions and education wasn’t a priority in her life: getting through each day was.

Because her grandad showed her love, because her teachers showed her care, because her friend’s sought help for her; she was able to allow a teacher to clean and cover her cuts. She was able to tell them how low she was feeling and how she needed more help in school and coping with Year 11 pressure.

Wow – we thought. What difference those teachers were able to make by listening to her, working with her grandad, allowing her express her feelings and even question whether School was right for her. No teacher pressured her, no one shouted at her or judged her.

Teachers can offer more than an English lesson or advice about career choices: they can offer care, support, a listening ear and as trust worthy adults.

Adults go into teaching because they believe in supporting, guiding and caring for young people. At SelfharmUK, we train teachers to help young people struggling with self-harm, because, we believe, that by working with us, we can help you more.

Today, have a think – is there a teacher you could trust with your story? 

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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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Alumina Summer Programme - Anxiety

Laura talks to us about anxiety

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Alumina Summer Programme - Depression

Ruth talks to us about depression. 
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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 - Coping with scars

Jo talks to us about coping with scars.

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