Health Mental health What is self-harm? "It's important to talk about self-harm in LGBTQ+ people, where lesbians and trans people are especially at risk." Self-harm is when someone intentionally damages themselves or their body. It’s fairly common, and occurs more in LGBTQ+ people than the general population. People choose to self-harm in many different ways. These can include: Cutting skin Hitting or pinching themselves Misusing alcohol or drugs Starving themselves (anorexia nervosa and bulimia) Over-eating Pulling hair Over-exercising Picking or burning skin How common is self-harm? More common than you’d think. Estimates vary, and it’s difficult to identify exactly how many people self-harm, but it’s far from rare, and the figures out there probably underestimate the real numbers. According to the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, around 10% of young people in general self-harm. As for LGBTQ+ people, a Stonewall survey in 2012 found that 7% of gay and bisexual men self-harmed in that year, and 20% of lesbian and bisexual women. Trans people are at a much higher risk of self-harming, with another report finding that nearly all (96%) of trans youth in Scotland have self-harmed. What causes self-harm? As with all mental health problems, there’s no universal cause for self-harm. A lot of the time, however, it happens when people experience intense distress or highly stressful situations. For instance, unemployment, losing a family member, sexual abuse and relationship problems can all lead to self-harm. LGBTQ+ people are thought to experience higher rates of self-harm because we face discrimination and abuse, as well as other obstacles like coming out and potentially difficult familial relationships. These could all contribute to the mental health deficit in LGBTQ+ people. I self-harm, what should I do? It might seem scary at first, but one of the first steps toward helping yourself is talking to others about your self-harm. Many people choose to keep their harm a secret due to fear or shame, but there are plenty of people out there who will understand your situation and be supportive, most likely including your family and friends. It’s also advised that you visit your GP and ask for help with self-harm. They may refer you to receive talk therapy, where you can begin working through your harm with a trained therapist. They could also recommend that you start a course of antidepressants. Online peer-support groups could also provide an excellent space to talk to others who have self-harmed. What Next? Support If you think you’re in immediate danger of seriously harming yourself, we advise you to call Samaritans on its free, 24 hour helpine: 116 123 If you're not in immediate danger and would prefer to speak to someone who is LGBTQ+, then you can also contact LGBT Foundation 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday. You could also call Switchboard whose LGBTQ+ volunteers are also there to listen on its dedicated helpline 0300 330 0630. There are a bunch of organisations dedicated to helping those who self-harm in the UK. These include: Life-Signs Harmless National Self-Harm Network Self Harm UK Extra Reading Mind, the mental health charity has an excellent information page which goes through ways to help yourself in the short and long-term, as well as details of treatment and support for you and your family. Mental Health Foundation has also produced a fab guide which is worth reading and you may find helpful.