Why it’s so difficult to discuss self-harm and how to get help by a former self-harmer

I’ve never written about being an ex self-harmer, not out of shame but because I don’t want anyone to get ideas about self-harm, or to encourage it in any way. That said, it’s still an important thing to talk about as it isn’t going away, so we just need to talk about it in a responsible way.


The good news is that nowadays, there are more resources available to help you, many more than when I was young (although there is always room for more).

If you are thinking about self-harm, have self-harmed or know someone that has, then these are the resources that can help you:

It feels unethical of me to describe the nature of my self-harm, but it is something that I sometimes did as a young child while at infant school and later as a teenager. I’m 32 now and the scars are still there but they are generally not visible when I’m wearing clothes.

I used to tell sexual partners about them before we were intimate, but I’ve been in a long-term relationship for many years so I haven’t needed to disclose it for a long time.

One of the men I slept with was also a former self-harmer and some of his reasonings were very similar to mine. For me, it was about self-punishment as harsh criticism and punishment were very much a part of my upbringing. It was also about insecurity and control, for him it was to do with insecurity, but also isolation.

There are a myriad of reasons why people chose to harm themselves, but if you are having these feelings then I would urge you to tell someone you trust and to get help. I didn’t receive professional help at the time and I wish that I had. Telling a close friend whilst drunk ultimately stopped it, because she looked out for me and I didn’t want to let her down.

Despite the taboos around self-harm, in reality, it is more common than we think, as many people understandably choose not to disclose it. Even if you are happy to discuss self-harm, there is rarely an occasion when it comes up in polite conversation. But, as I’ve said before about having OCD, we do live in a brave new world, one where we discuss uncomfortable subjects and ultimately let go of our shame.

In terms of practical advice, I would tell someone that you trust if you have self-harmed or want to, as that was what changed things for me. If you have implements that you use, then safely dispose of them to break any rituals that you use. Be sure to clean and dress any wounds to prevent infection or get a professional to dress them for you. Then speak to a counsellor on a helpline, and/or get a referral from your GP for counselling.

For me, the worst part of going to counselling (when I eventually went) was walking into the room, sitting down and then trying to communicate what was wrong. That is a major hurdle but once you’ve managed that (and you’re happy with your therapist) then you’re potentially on the road to recovery.

My advice would be to take it one session at a time, as you don’t have to tell them everything all at once. You can also join groups and participate in forums to speak with other people facing the same issues who can relate and support you. Only use official forums, as you never know what trolls may be lurking in unmoderated chat rooms.

As I have an anxiety disorder and OCD, I also had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which helped me more than counselling. This was because it was more practical than talking therapy, so it’s worth trying if you have multiple problems like I do.

Whatever way you decide to tackle your self-harm or thoughts of self-harm, remember that your mind can be complicated. Just like life is complicated, rarely perfect or not always easy. If you are sat in your bathroom and you want to harm yourself, then you are not alone. Ultimately, self-harm isn’t new and it’s not unique to any type of person. I’m in India and there are many self-harm resources because it’s a big issue that people face here.

All I can really say to you is be kind to yourself. I’ve spent many years hating myself and while it makes me feel sad, it also means I can relate to other people who are struggling with self-harm. I’ve suffered from depression, disordered eating, generalised anxiety, health anxiety, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, OCD and I’ve self-harmed.

I’ve also travelled the world, worked for the BBC, written two books, got a masters degree, trained as a journalist and renovated a house. I wanted to do these things, and I didn’t allow my broken brain to stop me from doing them.

I’m aware that I am very privileged to be mentally ill and still able. My hope is that will become the case for everyone, as we continue to make breakthroughs in the biology of mental illness. The dream is that we will treat mental illness diagnostically, much like physical illness in order to put them on a par with each other. There is so much hope in the science of mental health that I have every faith that we will see this within our lifetimes.

I believe that self-love isn’t indulgent, it’s a necessity. Self-harm is on the rise in young girls in the UK and pointing to a real problem in our society. We do need to teach girls to love themselves, and happily, we’re starting to realise this after years of the absolute opposite.

These are difficult times and we need to address self-harm by talking about it, researching it, providing resources for sufferers, creating a nurturing society and being good to each other. I hope that one day these blues will be beaten and self-harm will be replaced by self-love.

The Samaritans can be contacted on 116–123 in the UK.


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