Responding to Self-Harm     


-- It’s seen as something attention seeking teenagers do.
-- It’s seen as a preserve of the ‘mentally ill’.
-- It’s seen as a passing phase, perhaps as ‘nothing serious’.
And yet.
-- It’s the leading cause of death for  adults between 20 and 24 according to a recent Lancet Commission report.
-- Self-harm is killing people.
-- And it’s important to note here, that these are not people who were necessarily trying to take their own lives.
-- Self-harm is not suicide.

Self-harm is a coping mechanism, a way to manage unspeakable pain in a tangible way. People at the very beginning of adulthood are dying as they try to navigate their lives. We can suggest countless reasons why young people in their twenties are self-harming; the pressures of debt, lack of affordable places to live, dissatisfaction, not to mention rising rates of mental illness.

Self-harm doesn’t stop as soon as people turn twenty, but all too often the sources of support seem to. From living amongst friends in university houses with student support and student pastors available to talk to, entering the workplace with a boss and navigating the career ladder can feel incredibly isolating.

How can we even begin to respond?

There is no easy answer, no one size fits all response which will remind  people that their lives are valuable and that they are valuable. Medication and mental health service input might be required, better systems of support and learning coping mechanisms are vital   but more than that; space, community and vulnerability are needed.

Space before God to understand who they are without the labels of ‘young person’ or ‘student’. Communities in which they can work out life in a safe place, and vulnerability to learn that no one is perfect, no one is sorted.

Recovery, of any kind cannot be done in isolation. We cannot let a generation of struggling young people turn into adults who can see no solace outside of scars. We need communities to remind us that all solace comes from a God who, through His Son was prepared to bare His scars.

This article first featured over at


Rachael Newham, 13/05/2016
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