Northern Ireland

Self-harming: 'I'm trying to be strong, but I'm not'

For Dawn, even going out wearing a T-shirt on a sunny day is an achievement.

"This is the first time I've been able to wear a T-shirt; last year I couldn't. It's so embarrassing having the marks."

That is because Dawn (not her real name) self-harms by cutting her skin.

A major study by Northern Ireland's Department of Health and the University of Glasgow has found that one in 10 schoolchildren in Northern Ireland have self-harmed.

Over 3,500 children were surveyed by researchers to find out how common the problem is among young people.

Dawn is now in her 20s, but she began to self-harm at the age of 14.

"It was just the life that I was living," she says.

She says she got into a violent relationship when she was young and developed anger issues. She reacted, she said, by self-harming.

'Bullied at school'

Simon (not his real name) also began to self-harm at school.

He says: "I was about 13. It was experimental, I didn't feel it was for a reason.

"But looking back now, I had a lot of stuff going on in my childhood - I was bullied a bit at school - so I suppose there was stuff leading up to it."

Simon and Dawn continued to self-harm as adults.

Dawn said her friends tried to ignore that fact that she was harming herself.

"People just don't want to know when you're doing it, they just don't understand why.

'Feel alone'

"You try to explain but nobody's listening. I'm trying to be strong, but I'm not."

Neither finds it easy to explain exactly why they continue to self-harm.

"Sometimes when you're alone, or with your problems, you feel very alone sometimes," says Simon.

"The reason I'm talking about this now is that I'm about to start getting help."

He is working with the self-harm service in the Belfast Trust to end his cycle of self-harm.

Dawn, too, has sought help from PIPS, a local organisation that helps people like her.

"I've got a bit of family support now, and I'm going to PIPS one day a week.

"Just walking in somewhere and somebody talking to you, it helps you to feel a wee bit positive."

There are a number of organisations across Northern Ireland where people can go to get help if they are self-harming.

Information on a range of them can be found on or you can phone Lifeline on 0808 808 8000

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