What is self-harm?

Being someone who self-harms or being close to someone who self-harms is tough. Understanding why people close to you hurts himself/herself can be very difficult, even scary. People have all sorts of feelings about self-harm, including fear, anger, frustration, helplessness and worry.

Self-harm is a common health problem for young people. Iceland has a population of around 50.000 young people between the ages of 14 and 24 years old. Previous studies have shown that around 10% of young people have intentionally injured themselves at some point or made a suicide attempt. This translates into approximately 5.000 young people that are self-harming or have self-harmed. Adults who self-harm are 100 times more likely to commit suicide.

The most frequent types of
self-harm in teenagers include cutting, overdosing and poisoning and to a lesser degree, head banging, burning, strangling themselves and jumping from heights. Poisoning and overdosing are the behaviors most likely to attract medical attention, although cutting is the most common form of self-harm in young people.

People self-harm for different reasons although it is usually linked to anxiety, depression and anger. Self-harming does not always mean that you want to commit suicide, that you are “looking for attention” or you are being manipulative.

Young people who self-harm do so as a way to cope with emotions and situations they feel too hard to deal with. Some young people don’t know how to put this pain into words and self-harm is the only way to show others the hurt inside. For someone to deliberately harm himself/herself by cutting or burning their body, he/she must be suffering a lot.

Why do people self-harm?

Some reasons people self-harm includes:

FEELING UPSET, ANGRY OR SCARED and the only way to stop these feelings seems to be to hurt themselves

HAVING A HORRIBLE FEELING building up inside and cutting is the only way to let it out or stop it by feeling physical pain and distracting the mind from the inner pain

FEELING ALONE AND ISOLATED from everybody and hurting themselves is the only way they feel ‘real’ or ‘connected’

FEELING OUT OF CONTROL and cutting or hurting themselves is the only way they feel in control

FEELING RESPONSIBLE for everything and everyone

FEELING NUMB and the only way they feel is by causing pain

IT CAN MAKE THE PAIN YOU FEEL INSIDE visible and when it is visible, it’s easier to understand

FEELING LIKE others only care about them if something bad happens

FEELING LIKE everything is hopeless

ELF-HARMING can be a way of punishing themselves or others for something

FEELING BAD about themselves and

FEELING LIKE they have no one to talk to.

Some people who self-harm have experienced physical abuse or suffer from anxiety. Other people have experienced sexual or emotional abuse, lost a family member or were not treated well as a child. This can create stress and pain in people’s lives. Sometimes this leads people to stop the pain by hurting themselves. However, not all people that self-harm have been abused or experienced big losses.

People who self-harm have difficulty coping with and talking about their emotions. Because of this, these emotions can build up and feel too much. Self-harm can seem like the only thing that will make these emotions go away or to feel something different.

People who self-harm may not like themselves or their bodies. They may have difficulties with relationships, not be able to talk about what is going on or be depressed, anxious or stressed. It is important to understand that whatever the reason for your self-harm, there are other and better ways of dealing with the way you feel.

People hurt themselves because it is the only thing they can think of doing to cope.

Why do I keep hurting myself?

Some people say that self-harm helps take away the emotional pain and that this seems like the only way.

If something makes us feel better, then we tend to keep doing it. In this way, self-harming is like an ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOUR. Like a drug, self-harming when you feel like you are not coping can make you feel better. Because you feel better, you keep doing it.

Something that is addictive is really hard to give up.
When people find hurting themselves brings relief, it can become their main way of dealing with problems – this can start to affect their life in a negative way. What is important to understand is that SELF HARMING IS JUST ONE WAY OF DEALING WITH THINGS and that THERE ARE OTHER AND BETTER WAYS!

Some other reasons why people find it difficult to stop self-harming include:

WONDERING WHAT THEY WILL DO to cope instead of self-harming

WONDERING WHETHER PEOPLE will still show they care if they don’t see the cuts and scars

WONDERING WHETHER PEOPLE will still know that they are hurting if they don’t see any injuries

LETTING GO OF SELF HARMING is like letting go of a familiar part of yourself “Who will I be if I don’t self-harm?”

WORRYING THAT THEY MIGHT get swallowed up by their feelings if they don’t self-harm

CONCERNED that they might stay numb

Where can I turn to?

The most important step is to tell someone how you are feeling, be it a friend, a family member, a crisis line or a professional. Here are some useful phone numbers:

Distress and psychiatric problems:

  • Red Cross Helpline, 24/7 crisis line, phone nr: 1717 and webchat 1717.is
  • Consultancy of Geðhjálp, free interviews with a consultant, phone nr: 5701700, e-mail: gedhjalp@gedhjalp.is. www.gedhjalp.is
  • Emergency services, phone nr: 112
  • Emergency Room of the Psychiatric Department (LSH), phone nr: 5434050 The emergency room is open weekdays from 12:00-19:00 and 13:00-17:00 on weekends. Outside of the opening hours you can turn to the general emergency room in Landspítalinn Fossvogur.
  • Psychiatric Department (LSH), phone nr: 5431000
  • Psychiatric Department of Akureyri, phone nr: 4630100
  • Child and Adolescence Psychiatric Department (BUGL), phone nr: 5434300

In Reykjavík you can look into groups and organizations such as Clubhouse Geysir, Hugarafl and Hlutverkasetur. Outside of Reykjavík, you can turn to Grófin in Akureyri, Vesturafl in Ísafjörður, Ásheimar at Egilsstaðir to name some, an internet search will provide more options. You can also look up independent psychologists at www.salfelag.is or www.sal.is.

Furthermore you can turn to doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists or other mental health professionals. If you are at school you can turn to school-psychologists (in primary-schools and several collages) or other employees, for example counselors or nurses.

Sexual abuse
If you have been sexually abused you can turn to Stígamót or Drekaslóð. Stígamót also offer interviews at Pareksfjörður and Egilsstaðir. In Ísafjörður you can contact Sólstafir and in Akureyri, Aflið.

Drugs and alcohol abuse
If you have a drug or alcohol problem, you can get a free consultation from SÁÁ. You can also enter a 12-step program such as AA or NA www.nai.is.
If you are a parent of someone that has an alcohol or a drug problem, you can turn to Foreldrahús (parentshouse) www.vimulaus.is.

Psychologists that specialize in treatment of drug and alcohol problems can be found at at www.salfelag.is or www.sal.is. You can get help 24/7 at the Red Cross crisis line, call 1717 or use the webchat www.1717.is.

1717 ókeypis + trúnaður + alltaf opið