I’m writing this blog as somebody who has struggled and suffered with self-harm for over 15 years now.
Every year during self-harm awareness day in March, self harm keeps receiving more and more attention, but there is still a long way to go.
There’s a lot of research out there about self-harm; statistics show that the UK has one of the highest rates in Europe. We know that it is particularly prevalent among young people, and it is generally thought that more girls self-harm than boys. However, self-harm is a very difficult thing to research accurately, because so many people keep it secret. This is even more the case for young men, who are less likely to open up about their emotional and mental lives.
So what do we actually know about young men who harm themselves?
The biggest difference, it seems, is that males are far less likely to seek help following self-harming. This includes general support, such as seeing their GP or using internet support forums, but also necessary physical treatment. Young men are less likely to go to hospital (even for serious cuts or overdoses), and if they do go, they are more likely to claim it was an accident. This is very concerning, not just because of the physical risk, but because they will not have a chance to talk about their problems or get support for their mental health.
Like females who self-harm, most males harm themselves to reduce emotional pain or distress. However, research suggests that males tend to use self-harm as a last resort for coping with difficulties in their lives. As a result, they are more likely to use drugs or alcohol at the same time, or hurt themselves using violent methods. Despite this, they may not see self-harm as a problem. In fact, a lot of young men say they harm themselves in order to fit in with their friends. This is a really big deal: not only are young men more likely to keep their problems quiet until they reach breaking point, they may actually think it is okay to self-harm because their peers accept it.
But does any of this mean we should support men who self-harm differently from women? In many respects, it doesn’t. Most things which can be done to support those who self-harm do not depend on whether the person is male, female, transgender or otherwise. Such things might include telling the person that you do not judge them, letting them contact you when they are struggling, or providing them with ideas to distract themselves from self-harm.
However, it is key to bear in mind that a young man may feel less able to open up or see their self-harm as a problem. This does not mean encouraging them to quit self-harming before they feel ready, or telling them that what they are doing is wrong. It just means encouraging them that it is okay to talk, and emphasising how important it is to get treatment for self-harm. Knowing where to turn for help can be a long process for anybody, and for young men, the road to recovery may have a few more obstacles in the way. However, by simply being kind and encouraging openness, hopefully those obstacles can be broken down a little quicker.