‘We’re not monsters ... we’re just really sad sometimes:’ hidden self-injury, stigma and help-seeking

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The aim of this article is to provide an insider perspective on experiences of stigmatisation for people who engage in hidden self-injury. The vast majority of self-injury is recognised to be hidden, whereby most people who self-injure do not present to formal health services. By drawing on the data from 20 face-to- face interviews, conducted in community settings, with counselling clients with a history of self-injury and counsellors experienced in working with self-injury, I sought to provide insights into hidden self-injury, stigma and help-seeking. Through a Grounded Theory analysis, three categories were identified: (1) stigma and rejection; (2) fear and the need to rescue; and, (3) secret shame and self-stigma. Each category inter-relates to form the core category, ‘stigma permeates the lives of people who self- injure.’ My research demonstrates that social stigma surrounding self-injury interacts with self-stigma and compounds existent feelings of shame, thus restricting help-seeking and recovery. There is a need for service-providers and policy-makers to become aware of the multifarious manifestations of stigma, which reinforce the devastating impact of self-injury on people’s lives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-103
JournalHealth Sociology Review
Issue number1
Early online date13 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Apr 2018


  • Self-injury
  • stigma
  • help-seeking
  • qualitative


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