self-harm awareness month

Self-harm seems to have an increasing prevalence rate amongst youths. Yet, it is misunderstood and often dismissed as attention-seeking behaviour. The most talked about self-harm method is cutting. Individuals who use other means of self-harm are then neglected, because nobody looks for the signs of self-harm other than cutting, which is what I’ll be writing about.

Before reading any further, I’d like to declare a trigger warning for the readers who have a history of self-harm.

Risk factors

There are many things that could drive someone to self-harm, but certain risk factors include sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and insecure attachment1. Much like drugs and alcohol, tolerance levels go up, and the severity and/or frequency is increased in order to feel the release of tension. As the individual becomes more dependent on self-harm, it becomes the only coping strategy that they know. Hence, a history with self-harm definitely increases one’s likelihood to self-harm (again).

You might imagine that a person would resort to self-mutilation only under extremes of duress, but once I’d crossed that line the first time, taken that fateful step off the precipice, then almost any reason was a good enough reason, almost any provocation was provocation enough. Cutting was my all-purpose solution.”
Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game

Forms of self-harm

This is an extremely non-comprehensive list, but there are things like hitting, scratching, hair-pulling, skin tearing, burning, suffocation.

Symptoms of the other forms of self-harm?2, 3

  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises or other wounds
  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Signs of depression
  • Talk about needing to punish him/herself
  • Low self-esteem

Self-harm and suicide? 2,3

Self-harmers are not necessarily suicidal. In fact, they could very well be the opposite – they want to live, and therefore they self-harm in order to cope with life. That being said, self-harm is not something to be taken lightly. Accidents happen (e.g. cutting too deep), and if there is no intervention, the individual might end up being caught in a cycle that goes something like this – feeling like you need to be punished > self-harm > need to be punished for self-harm/am weak for self-harming.

Seeking treatment for self-harm in Singapore

Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) – get a mental health check and referral(s)

YouthReach Centre, Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH) – 6593 6424; <18 yrs old

Singapore Counselling Centre – 6339 5411

Click here for a list of helplines compiled by National Council of Social Service.

  1. Risk factors for deliberate self-harm among college students.
    Gratz, Kim L.; Conrad, Sheree Dukes; Roemer, Lizabeth
    American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol 72(1), Jan 2002, 128-140. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0002-9432.72.1.128
  2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/self-injury/symptoms-causes/dxc-20165427
  3. http://www.livescience.com/11043-teens-hurt-science-injury.html
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