If you are experiencing a mental heath emergency, call the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) crisis team immediately on 0800 516171 or 999. They are available 24/7 and will support you through your crisis.

 What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose. Examples of self-harm include cutting, burning, poisoning, hitting, scratching and bruising. Other forms of more indirect self-harm may be self-neglect or excessive risk-taking behaviour. Someone who is self-harming might be dealing with lots of intense thoughts and feelings, and hurting themselves may feel like the only way to cope. Or, they might feel numb and hurt themselves in order to feel something.

Self-harming behaviour is relatively common – at least 10% of adolescents report having self-harmed – and it can affect anyone of any age, background or race. But it needs to be taken seriously.

Self-harm is not a positive way to deal with difficult feelings and experiences, and over time it can become a habit that is hard to stop. That’s why it’s so important to spot it as soon as possible and do everything you can to help.

Why does someone self-harm?

Self-harm is a very different experience for each individual, and is usually a way of coping with difficult feelings and experiences. There is no one reason why people self-harm. It can be a way of:

  • Helping someone to feel more in control
  • Reducing tension
  • Releasing powerful emotions
  • Relieving overwhelming thoughts and feelings that build up inside
  • Providing a feeling of physical pain to distract from emotional pain
  • Expressing emotions such as hurt, anger or frustration

Self-harm can may be a way of coping with situations such as:

  • Anxiety, low mood, low self-esteem, trauma, poor body image, gender identity, sexuality, abuse
  • Friendship or college problems, bullying, social media pressure, peer pressure, rejection
  • Family problems such as separation or conflict, unrealistic expectations and bereavement

Although the majority of people use self-harm as a way of dealing with life – not as a way of wanting to end their own life – people who have self-harmed are at more risk of taking their own life. Many people will have thoughts of suicide – and they can feel really scary – but the vast majority don’t go on to take these thoughts any further.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out and talk. There is always help and support available!

What can help?

Talking about it can be really helpful and is often the first step to feeling better. Speak to a trusted friend or family member, or contact our Therapy Service on to talk to one of our therapeutic counsellors. They can offer one-off drop-in appointments or weekly counselling sessions.

Understanding and taking control of your self-harm can be challenging. You can help by:

  • Learning to recognise the triggers:
    • ‘Triggers’ are what creates the urge to hurt yourself. They can include feeling or avoiding specific emotions, situations, people and thoughts
  • Developing distraction techniques and coping mechanisms:
    • Different distractions will work for different people, and different things might help at different times:
      • Apps like Calm Harm and DistrACT can help
      • If you feel sad – wrap a blanket around you, spend time with an animal, walk in nature, let yourself cry or sleep, listen to soothing music, try a breathing exercise
      • If you feel angry – exercise, hit cushions or a punch bag, shout and dance, bite on bunched up material, tear something up into hundreds of pieces
      • If you feel out of control – write lists, have a clear out, write a letter saying everything you are feeling then tear it up, weed a garden, try a relaxation exercise
      • If you feel numb or disconnected – flick elastic bands on your wrists, hold ice cubes, smell something with a strong odour, have a very cold shower
      • If you feel self-hate – write a letter from the part of you that feels the self-hatred, then write back with as much compassion and acceptance as you can, find creative ways to express the self-hatred through writing songs or poetry, drawing, movement or singing, or do physical exercise
    • Waiting:
      • The urge to self-harm can pass and it is thought that it is at its strongest for 5-15 minutes
      • Begin to identify ways you can distract yourself from the urge, or at least delay self-harming
      • Slowly increase the time you wait and gradually build up the gaps between each time you self-harm
    • Keeping a journal:
      • Regularly write or record how you’re feeling and what’s been happening in your life. You could do it every day, or whenever you feel you want to. It can help you to:
        • let your feelings out
        • see what you’ve written and think about things differently
        • learn more about what happens before, during and after so you can start to see patterns
        • think about new ways to cope or different things you could try
      • This can be a distressing thing to do. So be nice to yourself after each time you write, or get some support from a trusted person
    • Caring for your injuries with first aid and accessing medical attention when needed

Additional Resources

Supporting your child with self-harm

If your child is struggling with self-harm, click on the link to find out how you can support them and places you can get help.