The question that many people have on their minds regarding self harm is: is self harm the same as suicide? Or, when does self harm turn into suicide?
Self harm and suicide are not the same. And the difference is the intention behind people’s actions.
Self harm is a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming emotional states and feelings. There is generally no intention to die.
Suicide on the other hand, is action taken with the intention to die.
The most recent high profile case of Derrick Bird in England, highlights that self harm no longer served its function as a coping mechanism, resulting in him being unable to cope, needing to find another outlet and ultimately leading to his suicide.
For professionals engaging with people who self harm, it is ok to check with people if they are feeling suicidal or thinking of doing so. This helps them to confront the issue and gives them an opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to openly discuss this or their self harming behaviour. Discussing the topic does not mean they will go away and commit suicide because you have brought up the issue. In fact, it may well help to prevent them eventually going down that road.
It is because the issue of suicide was discussed, that Derrick Bird’s family and friends were able to persuade him from following through with his previous suicide attempt. That said, the discussion unfortunately came too late for him as he was already feeling out of control and without professional help to support him in managing his situation and emotional state.
More support is needed from professionals and the NHS in supporting people who self harm to manage their overwhelming emotions. The NHS seems to have missed an opportunity to appropriately help him with his reported visit to A&E for help, referring him instead to his GP ‘for that kind of thing’.
Step Up! International’s mission is to reduce the stigma surrounding self harm and provide people who self harm with trained professionals and practitioners who can appropriately meet their needs.