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Self-harm: An issue for us all?

To examine the taboo subject of self-harming with a view to enabling those who take part to ask for help.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To examine the taboo subject of self-harming with a view to enabling those who take part to ask for help.

Preparation and materials

  • This assembly requires a high degree of sensitivity.
  • Music suggestion: ‘Frozen’ by Madonna (widely available to download).


  1. Self-harm is a taboo subject in our culture, not much talked about, yet it is becoming increasingly common. It is estimated that one in ten teenagers self-harm. Often they are treated in the same category as alcoholics and drug addicts – the ‘undeserving’ sick who clog up the system taking the places of those with genuine injuries. Given the numbers of individuals who attempt self-harm, and our increasing understanding of personal psychology, this is an anachronistic attitude.
  2. Part of this attitude stems from the counter-intuitive nature of the act itself. Relatively content people would not usually comprehend what it is that makes someone attack themselves. But the distribution of luck in our lives is rarely equal, and some problems cannot be solved. Those who find themselves trapped in horrendous situations, unable to communicate their frustration with others, can turn to the relieving effects of a short, sharp pain and the feelings of comfort that result from the body’s own defence mechanisms.
  3. This may be the only aspect of that person’s life where they feel they have control and so the action can become addictive. The burst of endorphins, ‘feel-good’ hormones, after the blade is dropped becomes like a hit of an addictive drug, at first fun but then a debilitating necessity. The frequent self-harmer is as bound to the action on their flesh as the alcoholic is to spirits. This is not a good place to be in, and the best way out is through trust in others.
  4. The very action of talking to a friend, a loved one, or a counsellor will increase self-esteem, and can build a sustained feeling of acceptance. This can help to overcome the urges to self-harm and also the problems that caused it. The most important thing to remember about self-harm is that it is self-deception; it allows the body to release pleasant hormones to break in from the unpleasant situation, but it does not do anything to solve the problem that is making the sufferer feel so down.
  5. Fortunately, attitudes are beginning to change throughout the medical establishment and society in general. A wider acceptance of the value of talking therapy, including for those who do not have mental disorders, and a society more open to people talking about their problems, means that it is hoped that people will have less cause to self-harm.

Time for reflection

Think for a moment about your life – the good parts,

and the not so good parts.

Think about the people who affirm you in your life,

and those who are more destructive towards your self-esteem.

Now think about those who love you.

Spend time thinking about their faces, their voices,

about the good feelings you have with them.

Try to spend time every day, just thinking about those people you care for,

and those who care for you,

and so balance the good and the not so good in your life.

Publication date: June 2010   (Vol.12 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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