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Managers, do you have to look out for people who self-harm within your teams?

Isn’t that for teenagers?

I don’t know about you, but the first image that came to mind when I heard the term self-harm, was attention-seeking teenagers, and not in the workplace. This was before I became a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and did the interviews for the Self-Harm series on Mental Health Chats YouTube and Podcast

Insight from a specialist

Satveer Nijjar explains in detail on the YouTube and Podcast, “Why do People Self-harm”, it is not attention-seeking. It is actually a deliberate means to harm your body when you are in distress, feeling overwhelmed, and are not coping. People of all ages self-harm, so managers, yes you do need to be aware of self-harm in the workplace.  It is not just about teenagers, it can affect anyone in distress.

What sort of distresses could occur for people in the workplace?

·         An increase in stress and pressures at work

·         Bullying at work

·         Money worries

·         Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

·         Bereavement

·         Breakdown of a relationship

·         Redundancy

·         A health problem

·         Low self-esteem due to an overbearing manager, or increased work pressures

Who does it affect?

Self-harm can affect people of all ages and walks of life; however, rates are highest amongst young women and those who live alone (mentalhealth.org.uk). Self-harm will occur in the workplace if people are feeling stressed and overworked. Self-harm becomes a habit when people are in distress to release pain. We need to understand how people self-harm, so we can look out for the signs.

4 Ways people could self-harm under stress.

1)     Punching yourself or other things like a wall continuously. This can be noted by bruising on the knuckles.

2)     Hair Pulling – known as Trichotillomania or trich. This is a recurrent, irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop. I went to university with a girl who did this when she was extremely stressed, and we often noted she had a bald patch on her head and didn’t have any eyebrows around exam time.

3)     Deliberately cutting yourself to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration. This can be noted by seeing cutting wounds on the arm or thighs. Also note, wearing long sleeves, and trousers or tights, even in hot weather.

4)     Burning yourself  – this is a harmful coping mechanism for emotional pain, anger, or frustration. Burning may seem to offer a momentary sense of calm but can become a habit over time. Note continuous burns on the body, which may become infected. Also note, wearing long sleeves, and trousers or tights, even in hot weather.

The statistics

Studies have found that 6.4% of 16-74-year olds in England report having self-harmed at some point in their lives (McManus, Gunnell, Cooper, et al, 2019). However, this is probably an underestimate of how common self-harm is, as many instances go unreported like many other mental health concerns.

I believe that self-harm is a very private and personal act that the person carries out in an attempt to deal with whatever is causing them distress – it could be about their perception of themselves, their self-worth, their body image, and a way of distracting themselves from that situation. I do not believe it is to attract attention – if anything, it is the opposite, as that person will most likely cover up their scars, and many never disclose that they have self-harmed for many years.

If you would like to have a strategic debrief on how to help your teams with positive mental health with a trusted adviser book a strategic call here.