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Self Harm - Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Self harm is the act of harming or hurting oneself. A person often struggles with personal difficulties for some time before they self harm. Self harming can occur at any age. It is more common in young women than men. Some groups of young people self harm together. Self harm is more common in asylum seekers, prisoners, veterans and gay, lesbian and bisexual people, than in other groups of people, mainly because of the particular stresses they experience which others do not.

Symptoms of Self Harm

Alcohol dependence, body piercing, body punching, drug abuse, head banging, object swallowing, skin burning, skin cutting, tablet overdosing, and unsafe sex are ways in which people self harm. To others, such acts may appear deliberate. They notice tablet overdosing more than skin cutting. For someone self harming, these sudden or planned, regular or one off acts are attempts to deal with intolerable distress or guilt, increase the risk of acting on suicidal thoughts, and should always be taken seriously.

Causes of Self Harm

The causes of self harm include childhood issues, depression, emotional abuse, hopelessness, isolation, mental health problems, personal relationships, personality difficulties, physical abuse, powerlessness, sexual abuse, and work stress. A person often self harms when they feel out of control. Out of control alcohol dependence and drug abuse make self harming more likely. Self harm mainly involves private, silent suffering, but is sometimes a punishment or communication of distress without words to another.

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Updated 04 July 2011