Self-harm is an issue that does not discriminate on the grounds of gender, age, race, culture, disability or sexual orientation. The myths and stigma around it prevent people from getting the support they need.
The following text was produced by the disabled members' advisory committee (DMAC) and the young members' advisory committee (YMAC) in 2010. It's designed to encourage awareness raising in branches and help counter myths and stigmas.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm or self-injury is the act of causing oneself pain and can include:
- Pulling out hair
- Self poisoning
The voluntary organisation firstsigns defines self injury as:
- A coping mechanism. An individual harms their physical self to deal with emotional pain, or to break feelings of numbness by arousing sensation.
Self-harm is NOT attention seeking or manipulative and it is NOT a suicide attempt.
Identifying the signs
Research into self-harm is relatively new. Because of the stigma around it people are secretive about self-harm. Many of the studies in the past have relied on hospital admissions to establish numbers whereas in many cases people can treat their injuries at home.
The mental health foundation conducted a study into self-harm amongst people aged between 11 and 25. The 'truth hurts' study estimated one in 15 young people have self-harmed. The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimate one in 10 people will self-harm at some point.
The 'truth hurts' study also identified social isolation as a factor and there is evidence to suggest self-harm is more common in the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, some ethnic minority communities and amongst disabled people. As such we believe it is an issue that should be important to us as trade unionists.
Help is at hand
We hope you will use available resources below to raise awareness in your branch. We have deliberately not written our own leaflets and guidance as we believe it is safer to leave that to the experts in the subject.
Changing words here and there can change the emphasis or even the meaning. Most of the internet sites below offer free posters and leaflets which you can download and use.
If you do decide to raise awareness, please avoid using any graphic images of people self-harming. Images like this can act as a ‘trigger’ to people who self-harm. Also please avoid using the label ‘self-harmers’ for people who self-harm.
Self-Injury awareness day - 1 March
1 March every year is self-injury awareness day. Throughout the world interest groups and individuals focus their efforts on raising awareness of self-harm on that day.
The National Self-harm Network is aimed at survivors, professionals and friends and family. The site has a forum and resources to download
Harmless is aimed at survivors, professionals, friends and family. It provides information and some excellent downloadable leaflets and posters. We particularly like their DVD exploring self-harm, distress and recovery. They offer a free short version on their site via Youtube.
First Signs is aimed at survivors, professionals and friends and family. First Signs aka Lifesigns is an online user-led organisation. Pages include extensive advice for survivors on managing and moving away from self-harm. It includes a message board and downloadable leaflets.
Royal College of Psychiatrists provides a free downloadable advice leaflet for survivors friends and family. Also ‘self-harm: limiting the damage’ provides safety advice for people who are currently self-harming.