Self-harm is the act of a person intentionally damaging their body by behaviour which results in pain or injury. People may self-harm as a means of coping with difficult feelings, such as overwhelm or distress, and acts of self-harm are often carried out in private. Self-harm can also be considered as high-risk behaviour, where a person may not be injured, but they choose to engage in activities which cause harm.
If you’re self-harming, you don’t have to go through this alone. You can learn to manage intense emotions in ways which don’t cause you harm.
Warning: it can be upsetting and triggering to read information about self-harm. If you are feeling vulnerable at the moment, you might not want to consume the content on this page.
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is the act of a person intentionally damaging their body by behaviour which results in pain or injury and people who self-harm do so as a way of coping with difficult or distressing feelings. It can also be considered as high-risk behaviour, where a person may not be injured, but they choose to engage in activities which cause harm. Physical self-harm is often done on places of the body which aren’t easily seen by others, which makes it difficult for people to know when self-harm is occurring.
Self-Harm can include:
- Hitting, cutting or burning yourself
- Pulling your own hair
- Picking your own skin
- Taking excessive amounts of illegal drugs, prescription drugs or alcohol
- Over-eating or under-eating
- Exercising excessively
- Poisoning yourself
- Having unsafe sex
- Getting into fights where you know you will get hurt
- Part-taking in other risky behaviour that could end in injury or harm
Why do people self-harm?
People of all ages, genders and backgrounds can self-harm, but while anyone can be affected, there are challenging life experiences which can result in a person self-harming more so than others. Difficult life experiences can cause someone to self-harm as a way of transforming emotional pain into physical pain or sometimes self-harm may be a way of “feeling something” during feelings of numbness.
Common instigators of self-harm include:
- Financial stress or worries
- Job loss
- Stress or pressure at school or work
- Social isolation or loneliness
- Relationships ending
- Illness or health concerns
- Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD
- Past Trauma
I self-harm, what should I do?
If you’re self-harming, you don’t have to go through this alone. You can learn to manage intense emotions in ways which don’t cause you harm. Managing self-harm can be a confronting experience learning to detach from harmful habits - but you can overcome these urges by learning coping techniques, identifying new habits to express how you feel and developing the right support network for you.
Try less harmful ways of expressing how you are feeling:
- holding ice cubes in your hand or snapping a rubber band on your wrist
- Physical exercise: go for a run or a walk
- Distraction techniques: scribbling over a blank page or writing down how you’re feeling
- Sensation: have a cold shower, smell a strong odour or cleanse your muscles and relax
- Create a sense of control: tidy, write up lists or declutter
- Mindfulness or breathing techniques: box breathing can bring on feelings of calm
- Counselling or therapy: Speaking with a therapist can help you understand the reasons for self-harming and explore other coping techniques
When to seek immediate care
If you, or someone you know, is at risk of harm or you’re worried you can’t keep yourself or someone else safe until you get support, seek immediate help.
If you, or someone you know, is concerned about self-harm or have thoughts about self-harming it’s important to get help.
- Call your GP or out-of-hours GP for an emergency appointment.
- Call NHS 111 for advice
If you’re worried you can’t keep yourself or someone else safe until you get support, seek immediate help:
In moments of need, there’s always someone there for you. Before calling a helpline, check the opening times by clicking to their website. It can help to check if the call is free or if there’s a cost involved before calling.
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Get Inspired, Get Mindful
There are simple things we can do everyday to improve how we feel and this section is full of inspiration to help us look after ourselves. Everyday maintenance of our mental health is not just a necessary part of life, but it helps us to thrive and feel our best.
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- Mind.org.uk - About Self Harm booklet explains self-harm, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family. (PDF Download)
- Lifesigns.org.uk - Self-Injury Awareness Book a 50 page booklet that raises awareness about self-injury and provides information and support to people of all ages affected by self-injury. Recognising self-injury is a way of coping with distressing experiences and difficult emotions, and encouraging people to reflect on the issues behind their self-injury, and to develop and explore alternative coping mechanisms. (PDF Download)
- Studentsagainstdepression.org: Safety Plan - This worksheet helps you put together a ‘Self-Harm Coping Plan’ so that you can remind yourself about alternatives and more constructive strategies for dealing with your feelings when you feel the urge to self-harm. (PDF Download)
- Self Injury Support – Exploring Alternatives Guide, For many people, a key thing that helps them to reduce their self-harm or feel more in control of it, is better understanding what functions self-harm has for them – what it brings to them – and exploring if there are things they could do that would have a similar function but be less harmful. (PDF Download)
- National Self Harm Network – Ideas for Distractions from Self-Harm (PDF Download)
- Self Injury Support - if know someone that self harms this Helpful responses to self-injury guide might be helpful to read . If you are someone who self-harms maybe this guide might be helpful to send to loved ones. (PDF Download)
- Lifesigns.org.uk - Self Injury Myths, When it comes to self-injury, many people still make unhelpful assumptions, and belittle the people who rely on self-injury at times of stress. While these are all ‘myths’, it’s not easy to dismiss them all, as there can be some truth involved with the assumptions. Read the facts carefully for a balanced argument for each myth. (PDF Download)
- Lifesigns.org.uk - Parent′s and guardians′ fact sheet, specifically written for parents and guardians of teenagers and children of any age who self-harm. Useful for children to print off for their parents, and useful for parents to get an insight into their child’s behaviour. (PDF Download)
- Harmless - Infographic on understanding the Drivers to Self Harm, associations between stressful life events and self-harm. (PDF Download)
- Flashbacks are the re-living of a traumatic experience that happened within your life at some point. Something occurring in the present reminds your body and mind of a previously bad experience and causes you to ‘re-experience’ it in that moment. This can be extremely frightening and disorientating. If you are experiencing flashbacks, these coping techniques could help.
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- Coming soon! Got any suggestions? If so, you can "Join The Conversation" at the bottom of this page.
Find Help Near You - Counselling & Therapy
One common type of support for self-harm is psychological therapy. This can involve working through thoughts and feelings with a psychologist or other mental health professional in regular sessions over a set period of time. Psychological therapies CBT therapy can help teach strategies for recognising and coping with overwhelming or distressing thoughts and preventing further episodes of self-harm.
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