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Self-harm research

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Key Findings

Please find following the key findings from our self-harm research study.
 

Self-loathing and need for punishment
 

  • 55% of participants reported experiencing self-hate prior to harming
  • 43% reported self-hate being a motive for self-harm
  • 45% reported harming in order to punish themselves
  • Those who harmed more frequently (daily or weekly, rather than every few weeks or months) were significantly more likely to be motivated by self-loathing or a need to punish themselves than those who harmed less frequently
  • One in four participants reported feeling guilty, ashamed or embarrassed after an episode of self-harm.

Feeling too little or too much
 

  • When asked how self-harm had helped them, 39% of participants wrote that it helped them regulate or release emotion
  • 62% experienced overwhelming emotions before harming and 63% had harmed to relieve mental pain
  • 34% had harmed in order to feel something
  • 42% of participants felt detached or unreal before harming
  • After harming, the positive effects felt most commonly were relief/release (47%) and sense of calm and peace (24%)
  • Those who harmed less frequently were more likely to cite ‘wanting to feel something’ or ‘wanting to feel real’ as a reason for their harm.

Secret Self
 

  • Feeling that your thoughts and feelings, if known by others, would be unacceptable to them was found to be associated with both current self-harm and a history of self-harm (and more strongly with the former)
  • Feeling unable to let your thoughts and feelings manifest in your behaviour was found to be associated with both current self-harm and a history of self-harm (and more strongly with the former)
  • Out of participants who were harming at the time of filling in the survey, those who thought their inner lives least acceptable and most in need of hiding tended to be those who harmed most frequently.

Control
 

  • One in three participants had at some point harmed in order to feel in control
  • 17% used self-harm to control (rather than just release) emotions
  • 28% used self-harm to control their behaviour

Common misperceptions regarding motivations behind acts of self-harm
 

  • Most of self-harm is hidden from others and motivated by private therapeutic needs rather than performed to achieve social or manipulative ends
  • Although those who self-harm often feel suicidal when they harm, their intention is to seek relief from those feelings rather than to die. Self-harm is more an act of self-preservation, than it is an act of self-destruction.

Self-harm from onset to termination
 

  • Reported age of onset for self-harm ranged from 4 to 58 years. The mean age of onset was 17
  • Of participants who were still harming at the time of taking part in the survey, 47% had been harming for longer than five years
  • Some participants had learned the behaviour from others, but others’ first act of self-harm was an instinctive response to emotional distress
  • 44% of participants had identified a change in their motives for harming over time
  • When participants had found themselves harming without having the usual motives of e.g. wanting to release emotion, it was most often a case of self-harm having become routine or habitual, but not necessarily an addiction.
  • Just over a quarter of participants to the survey with a history of self-harm reported having ceased to harm themselves. The most common reason for stopping was social pressure (20% of those who had stopped), arising from e.g. the participant’s understanding of their role as a parent, an employee, a wife or a husband.

Disclosing self-harm
 

  • 84% of participants sought to hide their self-harm from their family, and 66% sought to hide it from their friends
  • Young age was associated with disclosing to friends
  • The most common reason given for hiding self-harm from family was to avoid the negative emotional impact a disclosure was expected to have on them (38% of non-disclosers). This was also the second most commonly given reason for hiding self-harm from friends (21%)
  • Lack of understanding on behalf of family (26%) or friends (22%) was cited second-to-most often as a reason for hiding self-harm
  • Participants who sought to hide their self-harm from their families most often expected them to react with anger (31%), upset (21%) or shock/horror/fear (16%)
  • Participants who sought to hide their self-harm from their friends anticipated shock/horror/fear reactions (20%) to disclosure, or their friends being confused or bewildered about it (13%)
  • One in five participants who sought to hide their self-harm from their friends did so despite anticipating that the friends would be supportive if they were told about it
  • Only 10-15% of participants who sought to hide their self-harm expected their family and friends to recognise mental distress as the main reason for self-harm
  • Most commonly, participants who sought to hide their self-harm expected family and friends to think that they were seeking attention (22% and 19%) or mentally ill (19% and 25%).