The truth about self-harm

This month we are tackling a topic which is very difficult for anyone who is touched by it: self-harm. Self-harm describes any behaviour where someone causes harm to themselves, usually as a way to help cope with difficult or distressing thoughts and feelings. It could involve cutting oneself with a sharp object, burning oneself, scratching or pulling out hair.

There are many misconceptions about self-harm. Some people believe that it is only something that teenage girls do, or that it is attention seeking. In fact, people of different ages, genders, racial groups and cultural backgrounds engage in self-harm behaviours, and they often do it secretly, so as not to attract attention. Another myth is that it is a suicide attempt, whereas the truth is that many people who self-harm are not necessarily thinking about suicide. Often people judge those who self-harm, believing that it shows weakness, or a lack of willpower. In reality it is actually a sign that someone is in intense emotional pain. Others believe that if they ignore someone’s self-harm behaviour, the person will stop doing it. This is not the case. Self-harm is serious and to recover, the person needs help.

The good news is that with help, it is possible to overcome the urge to self-harm and find more constructive ways to manage difficult emotions. It is important to talk to someone you trust about what you are going through. This could be a trusted friend or family member, a healthcare provider, or a support group. Or reach out to a crisis hotline such as SADAG (24hr helpline 0800 456 789).

More information, including tips for self-help and for helping others, can be found on our website: and on our social media pages @MasiviweZA.


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