Why Language Is An Important Part Of Fighting Self-Harm Stigma

This is the third article in a series that we’ve compiled in support of Mental Health Awareness Week and WarriorKind’s #Triggered campaign. Today we’re discussing the stigma surrounding self-harm and the role that language has to play in amplifying and enabling that stigma to continue.

In the UK the prevalence of non-suicidal self-harm has nearly tripled over the past 10 years and sadly, research has shown, that the average age that self-harm begins is 12.

Those are shameful statistics and mental health CIC, WarriorKind, are on a mission to do something about it. They say that we all know so much more these days about the biology of mental health and we’re mostly more empathetic especially post-pandemic. However, WarriorKind believes that there’s still a long way to go where language is concerned.

Commenting on why her organisation launched its latest campaign, Sarah Drage, CEO at WarriorKind said, “Harmful language is something we too often turn a blind-eye to; it can be passed off as “not being meant seriously”. But what most people don’t realise is, these harmful words and misuse of terms can really amplify stigma. They can slowly and subtly build up a layer of acceptance, which can then lead to misconceptions and negative attitudes towards people experiencing mental ill-health.”

So, let’s talk about self-harm and how best to communicate about such a delicate subject.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is the term used to describe when someone deliberately hurts themselves as a way of dealing with their emotions. Self-harm is a coping strategy that helps people to

What self-harm is not.

  • Attention-seeking or manipulative.
  • A mental illness; it is a symptom of internal stress.
  • Only a young person’s problem.
  • A suicide attempt; it is about staying alive.

How can you help?

  • Look after yourself too; supporting someone who self harms is difficult, and so you should also recognise your own needs.
  • Try not to focus on the self-harm, but on the underlying distress and help them to identify and discuss their feelings.
  • Provide unconditional support; allow them to express their feelings openly and do not add to existing feelings of shame or isolation.
  • Consider the language you use; don’t refer to them as a ‘self-harmer’ as this defines them by

Thanks for reading and making an active effort to continue educating yourself on mental health and illnesses and for learning to be mindful of the language you use – remember words are powerful, use them well.


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