Largest ever survey reveals emotional pressures that drive youngsters to cut themselves

A new survey of people who deliberately harm themselves reveals that more than two-thirds say they have been upset by the negative reactions when family and friends find out. According to the as-yet unpublished report, some 40 per cent have had "a negative experience" with doctors and other medical staff, adding to the distress of self-harmers over what they see as "a lack of any real empathy or true understanding".

Sightings of the actress Lindsay Lohan this week, apparently bearing a number of cut marks on her wrist, once again turned the spotlight on the record numbers of young people who harm themselves as a way of coping with mental distress. Lohan's agent denies that she self-harms.

The largest ever study of self-harm among 15- and 16-year-olds in England revealed recently that one in 10 teenage girls deliberately cut or hurt themselves each year. More than two-thirds of sufferers admit to cutting, while the other third take overdoses.

The findings of the latest survey, conducted by the LifeSIGNS charity and to be published next year, provide an insight into why young people resort to self-mutilation. Overwhelmingly, it is a coping mechanism.

Commenting on the findings, a spokesperson for the charity said: "We know why we hurt ourselves; it's to cope with the difficult situations and overwhelming emotions that life throws at us."

Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Cross from Hastings was just seven, she said, when she first started to cut herself: "Have you ever been so angry that you want to scream? Well, that is what it's like, it's a way of screaming in silence."

By the time she was at secondary school, Jennifer had progressed to cutting herself with razor blades as part of her daily routine and hiding her scars by wearing long-sleeved tops. "I would wake up every morning, cut myself and then go out. Over time it evolved into how deep the cut was and how much blood came out."

School was an unhappy time for her - she suffered from bullying, which brought on bouts of depression. "I used to wake up in my room in the morning with cuts on me and not even remember doing it. I'd always feel really guilty and upset afterwards. I do it to cope with everyday life. When you are in the grip of it ... nothing else matters until you cut."

About 25,000 self-harmers are admitted to hospital every year but, since the vast majority don't set out to hurt themselves so badly that they require hospital attention, the true scale of the problem is likely to be far higher.

Common factors in people who self-harm tend to be a background of being bullied or suffering some form of traumatic abuse at a young age. More than 80 per cent of sufferers agreed that it would be easier for them if more people understood about self-injury.

CASE STUDY: 'There was no pain, I just felt calmer'

Jennifer Cross, 17, pictured, started harming herself when she was just seven years old.

"I remember the first time so clearly. I was feeling really wound up and angry and just stood and pulled a chunk of my hair out. I liked the sensation it gave me.

"I felt the hair coming out but didn't feel any pain. It is the strangest thing and very hard to explain, but it was like all the pressure that I had been feeling was coming out at that moment.

"I was so surprised that it didn't hurt and soon started scratching myself with my nails as well.

"I didn't think anything of it at the time, I just thought it helped make me feel calmer. I do it to cope with everyday life, it's as simple as that.

"It would be great if one day I woke up and didn't want to harm myself again."