The media tend to focus on young girls who cut themselves. Women’s magazines and teen magazines for girls reflect their audiences, so naturally stay focused on girls who self-injure.

By contrast, men’s magazines hardly touch the subject –perhaps a reflection of the fact that men do not want to talk about things they perceive as weakness. When I started looking for information about self-injury in 2000, I searched the web and found some informative sites, run by girls, for girls. As far as I could tell, they were all American. I soon decided that as a male in the UK, I could provide a perspective, so I started writing and web publishing. Since founding LifeSIGNS (aka LifeSIGNS), I have been in contact with many men and women who want to see the media redress the imbalance in reporting.

Self-injury is definitely not a girl thing in our experience. LifeSIGNS has always suspected that a bias in published research may be responsible for the apparent predominance of females who self-injure, and a report by M.J. Marchettoi suggests that this is indeed the case:

’No gender differences were observed among skin-cutters, most of whom reported experiences of trauma. BPD [borderline personality disorder] was recorded for a minority of those skin-cutters without a history of trauma… although these results provide further confirmation of a potential association between prior trauma and repetitive skin-cutting, they rigorously challenge the validity of reported gender differences for this behaviour. Further, this study has identified that repetitive skin-cutting can arise independently of BPD and prior trauma.’

For further information about male self-injury see:

Professionals working with clients who self-injure should endeavour to drop any preconceived ideas about gender differences and accept that, whatever the (obviously incomplete) statistics tell them, self-injury can affect boys, girls, men and women from all backgrounds and of all ages.

The statistics on self-injury are obviously incomplete for several reasons. First, they tend to be collated from Emergency departments, where ‘self-injury’ has often been included in ‘suicidal behaviour’ tick-boxes. Second, research that directly polls people misses men because there is no agreed definition of ‘self-injury’, and also because men are unlikely to discuss weakness no matter how anonymous the questionnaire. Third, the vast majority of people who hurt themselves do not seek help either from A&E departments or their GP, so it is impossible to have reliable, relevant statistics when self-injury is hidden as it is.

Self-injury is the hidden affliction; it is a difficult subject, and even harder to talk about from a personal point of view. People who self-injure worry about other people’s reactions, including the reactions of healthcare professionals. Will they be thought of as weak? Will they be considered stupid? Attention seekers? Acting out? Childish? A waste of time? Only through understanding and by providing accessible routes into care can professionals begin to reach people who would otherwise never talk about their self-injurious impulses.

i Marchetto MJ. Repetitive skin-cutting: parental bonding, personality and gender.
Psychology and Psychotherapy 2006; 79: 445-60.

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