The difference between self-harm and suicide
People who self-harm normally don't want to take their own lives. Suicide is a way of ending one’s life, but for many people, self-harm is a way of coping with life and being able to continue with living despite the emotional difficulties they may be experiencing. For some, the physical pain of self-harm reassures them they are still alive – this might be because they are experiencing emotional numbness or feeling disconnected from the world around them, or at the other end of the spectrum, feeling more connected and alive than they did previously.
Self-harm can also cause changes in the brain chemistry, which, although ‘satisfying’, can easily become addictive and therefore dangerous.
Sometimes people do die as a result of self-harm. This may be because they have taken an act of harming too far, and they lose their lives before help is found, or it may be they engage in something such as self-poisoning, which carries an incredibly high risk of death if untreated. There is believed to be an increase in suicidal intent if someone is prevented from self-harming. As difficult and challenging as it can be to understand, sometimes self-harm may be the safest option, if the alternative involves a desire to end life. It’s dangerous to prevent someone from harming without providing them with a realistic, alternative coping mechanism that they are willing to engage with.
It is important to know a bit about your body in order to keep yourself safe. Self-harm is never, ever completely safe or free from risks, but there are small things that can make a big difference and maybe save your life. If you are still going to hurt yourself, then it's important you try and do it in the safest way possible. Losing you would be a tragic waste. Every life has value.
If you're struggling with thoughts on suicide, you don't have to face them alone. Samaritans have a 24hr free helpline that you can call whatever you're going through.