Self-harming and young people

What can seem as something unthinkable and difficult to understand for most, is for some a part of everyday life. So why do some people, and young people in particular, deliberately harm themselves?

Self-harm is often a symptom of underlying depression or even an indication that that person has suicidal ideas – a cry for help. The physical pain of self-harm in some way relieves the emotional pain the individual is undergoing. Often that individual has feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem, perhaps as the result of bullying or depression.

Some of the physical warning signs that someone may be self-harming include scarring from cutting with a knife or razor on the corresponding arm, depending whether left or right handed, as well as lacerations on the lower arms, legs and abdomen. Often that individual will try and hide the evidence by wearing long sleeves, even in hot summer weather, and may also be very weepy, preferring to withdraw from interaction of any kind with friends and others.

If someone is self-harming it is important to get a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. A good starting point is the GP who may then refer to CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services) or to a specialist therapist at a local child and adolescent psychiatric clinic or to an appropriate consultant psychiatrist depending on the age of the patient. The underlying causes of the self-harming can then be pin-pointed and treated accordingly and ultimately the physical aspects of the illness resolved.

Treatment may involve counselling for the individual, talking therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and in some cases, group or family therapy are useful in getting to the root cause of the self-harming. Some patients may also benefit from anti-depressants, such as Fluoxetine which is particularly suited to younger teenagers. If so, it is important that these are prescribed at an adequate dosage and for an adequate period of time. In severe cases however, it may be necessary for the patient to be admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit where intensive supervision and treatment can be given.

Private Psychiatry treats a wide variety of mental health problems in young adults from the age of 16, including those who self-harm as a result of an underlying mental health condition. To make an appointment with any of our consultant psychiatrists, please get in touch.

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