Alexithymia and Deliberate Self Harm

Self-directed violence is the third leading cause of death in children after road traffic injuries and drowning. The reduction of child injury and violence is a key priority for WHO/Europe. The issue of Deliberate Self Harm or NSSI (Non Suicidal Self Injury) is a European one.

Self Harm is often labelled as a “personality disorder” and is stigmatized in many communities with some A&E locations deferring treatment because the person has injured themselves deliberately. Stigma leads to social exclusion and isolation, depression and can ultimately end in suicide for the young person at risk.

Alexithymia and Personality Disorders in the Adolescent Non-suicidal Self Injury by Rita Cerutti, Monia Clabrese, Carmela Valastro Sapienza University, Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, Via degli Apuli 1, Rome 00185, Italy 2013: “The aim of the present study was to describe the characteristics of repetitive self-injurious behavior and related personality functioning as well as to explore the relationship between (Non Suicidal Self Injury) NSSI and Alexithymia in a sample of NSSI adolescents (mean age= 16.1 yrs) within therapeutic communities. The results showed a representation of Cluster B personality features and personality disorders (e.g., borderline, narcissistic, antisocial). A significant association between NSSI behaviours and Alexithymia was found.”
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042813053536)

There is research-confirmed link between Alexithymia and NSSI/DSH with pathways leading to suicide (59% of young self harmers expressed a desire to die – CASE (Child and Adolescent Self-harm in Europe) Study 2008 (http://www.brunel.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/news-items/press/ne_24954).

Young self harmers are exposed to social exclusion at an early age. However, there are interventions that can help young people to combat Alexithymia (an inability to express emotions and feelings), but, many teachers, youth workers etc, are not aware or trained in them to address these causes of early school leaving.

DSH Positive Choices will “foster quality improvements in youth work, in particular through enhanced cooperation between organisations in the youth field and/or other stakeholders” (a specific objective of Erasmus Plus Programme in the field of youth). The project will deliver a series of workshops around promotion of emotional awareness, confidence building, self exploration for young people and self harm awareness for all stakeholders. Collectively, they will form an open training resource for all working in the field of youth, particularly with young people who may be, or at risk of, experiencing symptoms of Alexithymia and/or any other emotional distress. Each partner will host a 3 day meeting and deliver 2 one day workshops around related themes that can help young people build emotional resilience and train youth workers in skills to recognize and deal with recognizable symptoms and how to empathically support the young person in getting local professional help.

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