It is a popular misconception that self harm happens only among teenagers and young women. Recent research studies highlight that adults and elderly can be equally affected. Moreover, self harm in the elderly is likely to be underreported due to strong emotions of shame and guilt associated with the behaviour which often prevent people from disclosure and seeking help. It is suggested that treatment of self harm in older people is likely to be more difficult if the habit becomes ingrained as a person’s main coping mechanism. Although the majority of those who self harm are not suicidal, there is closer relationship between self-harm and suicide in older people. Reportedly, they are at higher risk of inducing more severe wounds and accidentally provoking situations that can be dangerous to their health and life.
A study by Dennis et al. (2007) found that self-harm in people of older age was largely associated with social isolation, poor physical health and more severe depression. Therein mentioned motives for self-harm involved the desire to escape from intolerable situation, need to gain relief from unbearable state of mind and a will to make others understand how desperate they were feeling. A review of qualitative studies (Wand at al., 2018) highlighted that underlying motivations and individual thought processes in older people who self-harmed can differ significantly. The explanations of self harm identified by this analysis included e.g. problem-solving in the face of losses and powerlessness, ﬁnding a solution in a situation of helplessness or an answer to intractable physical symptoms. Alienation from others was here recognised as a physical state of isolation but also as a private perception of one’s reality based on specific internal cognitive sets.
An important message brought by both studies is in regard to the possible ways in which social seclusion of the elderly can be reduced by enhancing opportunities for a more community orientated approach. The need is identified for better cooperation between health, social and voluntary sector. The maintenance and development of voluntary agency support for people across the lifespan is an important pathway of helping those who self-harm. Therapeutic support for adults and elderly focused on understanding the individual experience can be an invaluable form of help and enable surviving and working through the most difficult aspects of one’s life.