The Truth About Self Harm

June 13, 2007 at 8:03 am 4 comments

I was reading the Mental Health Foundation’s guide The Truth About Self-Harm. It’s a relatively good piece of work, but a couple of bits managed to annoy me.

“There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ young person who self-harms. About four times as many girls as boys do it. But it is also a serious problem among young men.”

This “four times as many” statistic has a number of sources (as do many other numbers). It appears to originate in a big study conducted by the Samaritans (Hawton, K., Rodham, K., Evans, E and The Samaritans. 2002. Youth and Self-Harm:
Perspectives – A Report. Surrey: Samaritans), which was based on self-reporting. This means, of course, that girls are four times more likely than boys to both self-harm and admit to doing so.

The in-depth report that The Truth About Self-Harm is based on explains:

Whilst the best available evidence indicates that four times as many girls than boys have direct experience of self-harm caution is needed in seeing self-harm as a greater problem for young women, not least because young males may well engage in
different forms of self-harm, such as hitting and punching themselves or breaking bones, which may be easier to hide or to be explained away as the result of an attack, an accident or a fight.

So, yes. Boys probably lie about it more than girls. But this doubt surrounding the ‘best evidence’ hasn’t influenced the figures in the booklet designed for the public and another spurious statistic is propagated.

Would it really have been difficult for them to say “There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ young person who self-harms. About four times as many girls as boys report doing it. But it is also a serious problem among young men, who may be less likely to divulge it to random surveys.”?

There was another bit that stood out for me, but in a more amusing than annoying way:

“Most young people who have found help say that having someone to listen to them and help them to work on solutions to their problems and stresses is the most helpful thing of all. This is why counselling or another type of talking therapy is useful. Ask your doctor to refer you to a counsellor or psychotherapist.”

And lo, there was bitter laughter from a self-harmer who has, as of today, been waiting for six months. Why not ask your GP for the keys to their Merc? It’s about as likely as getting therapy within a reasonable time.


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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. markps2  |  June 15, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Fu#k therapy, that therapist doesn’t give a sh@t about you. Better to have ANY friend to talk to, than a person who f*cks with your mind and pretends they are your friend for money. You have something on your conscious? Talk to a priest.

  • 2. experimental chimp  |  June 16, 2007 at 12:30 am

    markps2: Feel free to spell out the words “fuck” and “shit” in full in future. (Language Log has an interesting post about this kind of thing: Asterisking and other orthographic rituals.)

    You seem to have a somewhat jaded and inaccurate view of psychotherapy. Are there therapists who are in it purely for the money? Of course. Bad people exist in every profession. I haven’t been through any therapy yet myself, but the majority of therapists I’ve talked to seem to be reasonable people who operate with integrity and honestly want to help people.

    You also seem to think the therapist’s job is to be the patient’s friend. This may be true of some types of therapy, but it’s not true of most. While rapport is essential, a working relationship where mutual trust is built upon clear expectations is generally far more important than ‘friendship’. With most types of therapy the idea isn’t to have someone to talk to, but to have someone to help with identifying areas of your life which are the source of problems and addressing them, either through engendering change or learning coping skills.

    Priests do often serve as counsellors and this has been a part of their job for many years. For example, the suicide helpline The Samaritans was set up by a vicar. If someone is religious, then turning to a priest whom they trust in times of trouble could certainly be a good idea. I’d imagine that many priests will recommend therapy when problems are outside their experience or abilities.

    Like I said, there are bad therapists out there. And therapy may not be appropriate for everyone, but there are plenty of people who have been helped by it and there’s ample evidence to show that at least some types of therapy (cognitive behavioural therapy, among others) are effective in helping people.

  • 3. Ayla Greenwood  |  July 10, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    I’m really glad you posted this. I have often read the statistics on self harm and it has annoyed me how they make out that they’re not trying to pigeon hole self harmers, but fail to explain the statistics properly because a lot of the time it’s detrimental to the theories that they come up with. At the end of the day, it’s a subjective and individual experience, and statistics don’t really mean anything when you look at each whole person.

    It still amazes me that people are bored enough to post idiotic things such as that by markps2. Why waste the time? Why not spend that time posting something that you actually care about? Strange!

  • 4. quotidiandebris  |  March 25, 2011 at 6:11 pm


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Hi, I'm James. I'm a 26 year old guy from England with bipolar disorder (currently well controlled). I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder (not so well controlled). This blog has charted my journey from mental illness, through diagnosis and, recently, into recovery. It's not always easy, but then, what is?


Self-righteous note about smoking

As of 12th September 2008 it has been forty five weeks since I quit smoking. So in another seven weeks it'll have been a whole year.

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