Crisis, self harm & suicide
Experiencing a mental health or emotional crisis means feeling unable to cope with overwhelming or upsetting thoughts and feelings. Crisis is different for everyone. There may be different triggers and different ways in which people experience crisis- there is no right or wrong way to think or feel when in crisis. Not everyone who engages in self-harm behaviour is in crisis and not everyone who engages in self-harm is suicidal. Not everyone who experiences suicidal thoughts or urges engages in self-harm and they may not appear to be in crisis.
Self-harm involves the act of doing something to cause harm or not doing something which may cause harm (such as not taking prescribed medications). There are many forms of self-harm behaviour. There are many reasons why a young person may engage in self-harm and each individual episode of self-harm may have a different trigger or reason.
Suicide is the act of intentionally and purposefully ending one’s life. A lot of young people may experience thoughts about wanting to harm themselves or end their life, particularly when in crisis or when they experience a distressing life event.
Myth: People who self-harm are just ‘attention seeking’
Attention seeking is a phrase that has become associated with negative beliefs such as the individual is being manipulative or dishonest about the intention or purpose of their behaviour. This is often untrue and can stop young people from sharing how they feel and getting help. If someone is engaging in a self-harm behaviour in order for others to notice, pay attention or provide care, this should be accepted and responded to without judgement or blame and with care and compassion.
Myth: Self-harm is contagious; they are just doing it because their friends do it
It is unlikely that the sole reason someone engages in self-harm is that their friend is doing it. A young person that is happy and coping with life would not engage in self-harm purely due to real or perceived peer pressure, social status or for social inclusion.
Myth: People shouldn’t show their self-harm injuries and scars
It is important that no one feels judged or blamed for engaging in self-harm behaviour. Many young people will not want to actively display their self-harm injuries or scars but neither should they be made to feel as though they have done something wrong or to feel ashamed of having injuries and scars. Young people, together with their parents and carers and other adult care providers (e.g., school staff) should discuss how best to manage this in a way that the young person does not feel uncomfortable but also considers other young people’s needs such as within the school environment. It is important to understand that visible signs of self-harm can be upsetting for other young people to see. There may be times, situations and certain contexts where self-harm injuries and scars are visible e.g., if it is a hot day and someone chooses to wear a short-sleeved top. In these instances, the young person may wish to think about, with support from their parent or carer or another care provider (such as a teacher) what to say if approached by others about injuries or scars.
Myth: People who self-harm are suicidal/want to end their life
This is not necessarily true. People can engage in self-harm without any thoughts or urges, plans or intent to end their life. Some people who engage in self-harm may experience thoughts and urges to end their life but the self-harm behaviour is not an attempt to end their life. Some young people may engage in self- harm behaviour which could be life threatening even if they are not intending to end their life.
Myth: The severity of the self-harm reflects the severity or intensity of a person’s difficulty/ distress
It is important to take a person seriously regardless of how severe their injuries are or appear to be.
Myth: Asking someone if they are thinking of suicide or using the word suicide puts the idea in their head or makes them more likely to do it.
This is not true; asking someone if they are thinking of suicide or using the word suicide does NOT put the idea in their head, encourage them or make them more likely to do it. People can find it difficult to talk about how they feel so being asked direct questions can sometimes be easier to respond to.
People talking about feeling suicidal are not intending to taking their own life
This is not necessarily true. Experiencing suicidal thoughts and urges is a unique experience; some will feel unable to share or talk about how they are feeling whereas others may feel more able to do this. Whether someone is able to directly express and communicate thoughts and feelings of suicide or tries to communicate non-verbally or indirectly that they are struggling in this way, everyone deserves respect, care, support and to be taken seriously.
Watch this helpful video busting some common self-harm myths: