Africa Health Hope Dineo Kgopongi  

“Breaking the negative stereotypes circled against people who self-harm” by Dineo Kgopong

Breaking the negative stereotypes circle against people who self-harm

Self-harm or self-injury is when a person hurts themselves on purpose without wanting to die by suicide. Self- harming, when to one’s own body, is also referred to as Non-Suicidal Self- injury (NSSI).

Self-harming behaviours can happen at any age and are more common among youth than any other age group. Self-harming behaviours happen equally in boys, girls, non-binary youth and in the LGTBQ+ community.

As a young person, I think that people self-harm to get out of the hurt, anger and pains caused by pressures in their lives. Probably, they hurt themselves because they did not know what else to do and did not feel like they had any other options.

People engage in self harm to help deal with tense feelings and help manage distress and emotional pain. These behaviours do not solve the reasons that lead people to self-harm but can offer a person a sense of relief from how strong their emotions feel.

“Self-harm behaviours are particularly worrisome among youth. Recent statistics suggest that 17% of all deaths in South Africa are due to self-harm and, more than half of these are among youth (20-24 years old)”. Source

These are specific reasons why people self-harm themselves:

To manage stress, cope with their feelings (such as fear, depression, anger, loneliness) and to punish themselves.

When a few of these issues combine, they can quickly feel overwhelming and become too much for one person to deal with.

The most common self-harming behaviours include:

Cutting, burning the skin, hitting yourself to the point of bruising or breaking bones as well as taking more medicine than the prescribed dosage.

There are lots of myths attached to self-harm. Myths and misunderstandings often arise when a problem like self-harm is poorly understood. Negative stereotypes can be powerful.

Myths include: ‘Self-harm is attention seeking”, “only girls self-harm”, “people who self-harm must enjoy it”, and “people who self-harm are suicidal”.

People who self-harm must always remember that they are not alone. They have to identify a person who they can talk to and who understands them.

South African society should also break the circle of discriminating against people who self-harm and stop acting as if self-harm is a contagious disease. Family and friends who notice that someone close to them is self-harming or talks about it can contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

For Dineo’s profile see here.


First image by Wisnu Prayoga.

Second image by Juliette F.

Artwork by Aarón Blanco Tejedor