What is self-harm?
Find out more about self-harm and why you might feel this way...
This module talks about self-harm, which can bring up difficult feelings. If you are feeling vulnerable and don't feel comfortable reading this page, you can find support on our Speak to Someone page, or click the 'Quick Exit' button to leave this site.
I feel like hurting myself
Sometimes when we are struggling with a problem that feels too big to handle, we hurt ourselves in order to feel better. We might want to hurt ourselves because it makes us feel good, relieved, and takes our mind off our problems. When someone hurts themselves on purpose, this is called self-harm.
Self harm is an unhealthy way to cope with our problems, but there are other ways to manage our distress.
Read on to learn more about what to do if you or someone you know is self-harming.
If you need emergency or immediate medical treatment, get Help Now.
All of this information has been drawn together with the help of young people.
These pages aim to help you to:
- Learn more about what self-harm is and why young people do it
- Learn what alternatives and solutions there are if you are self-harming
- Understand how you can put some of these things in place in your life.
What is self-harm?
Good question! We all have different ways of coping with distress. 10% of young people in the UK self-harm to cope with their problems. If you or someone you know is self-harming, it might look like one of the following:
- Cutting or burning skin
- Punching or hitting yourself
- Taking poison or tablets, or something similar
- Doing something that puts you at risk of harm
For more information about self harm, including useful tips, and where to find further support, you can download our 'Let's Talk About Self-Harm' guide by clicking here.
You can find more helpful resources, including self-care worksheets, coping strategies, and supportive advice on our SH Resources Hub
Why do I hurt myself?
Self-harm is often a sign that we are finding it difficult to cope with something else.
Knowing what may trigger your self-harm is a helpful step in working out how to reduce and eventually stop self-harming.
You might self-harm because:
Some people who just want their problems to disappear self-harm because they are trying to end their lives.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, you are not alone:
What should I do if I am currently self-harming?
If you are currently self-harming, you need to access support from a professional to make sure you have treated any immediate injuries. If you leave your injuries untreated and hide them, it could lead to infection and other health complications.
Have a think about why you might be self-harming. What problems could you be trying to deal with?
Then try to think about someone you can trust—a teacher, a parent, a mentor—who can listen to you. If the idea of talking about self-harming is too scary, try talking to them about that problem you might be trying to deal with first.
You can also find support from services in your local area here.
If you need urgent help please click here.
You are not alone...
Watch this video to hear other stories about self-harm from young people.
If you’re currently self-harming, or if you have self-harmed before and are worried about doing it again, there are steps you can take to stop yourself from self-harming.
Click on the self-prescription below to work out how!
How can I manage these feelings?
We have put together a few useful resources on how to deal with self-harm.
Step 1. Reach out to someone you trust
Self-harming often causes feelings of shame, guilt and loneliness, but the truth is you aren’t alone! Think about someone you can trust in your life like a parent, a teacher, your GP or a youth worker. Then think about how you could tell them that you are self-harming.
If talking about self-harming seems too scary, maybe find another way to tell them: texting, drawing or writing a letter may be more comfortable.If you don’t know how to ask for help, think about what problems in your life you are trying to cope with. It might be easier to talk to someone you trust about that problem first. Write down some key areas in your life, and ask yourself: Is there something here making me unhappy?
- Work and School
- Relationships and Sexuality
- Physical Health
What happens if I tell someone?
If you are self-harming, you need to access support from a professional. When you tell a professional, they will give you a medical assessment to treat any immediate injuries you might have.
Treatment for people who self-harm usually involves seeing a therapist to discuss your thoughts and feelings, and how these affect your behaviour and wellbeing.
They can also teach you coping strategies to help prevent further episodes of self-harm.
Step 2. Practice Acceptance
GUESS WHAT! It’s ok to be exactly as you are!
It is definitely normal to feel shame or guilt about self-harming. So don’t be too hard on yourself! Instead, you can manage these feelings by practising acceptance and self-care. It will be hard to accept that you are having these feelings, but acknowledging it rather than hiding or pretending is an important step to kicking a self-harm habit.
It’s easy to practice acceptance if you show yourself some love! What makes you feel good about yourself? Is it playing the sport you’re best at or wearing your favourite jumper? Build your self-esteem by doing one thing that makes you feel good about yourself every day.
If you are self-conscious about scars from self-harm, you’re not alone. Sometimes it’s too easy to forget that maybe your scars aren’t as obvious to others as you think. Many young people really struggle with the appearance of scars from self-harm, but there is more to them than just the marks on your body.
Learning to accept your scars isn’t going to happen overnight—you have to practice! In the meantime, you can try to find alternatives that make you feel less self-conscious, like using creams to help them fade.
Step 3. Plan your alternatives
When getting treatment and counselling for self-harm, one of the things a professional might help you do is to find a healthy alternative to self-harming. This is often to distract you from the feeling that makes you want to self-harm or to help you feel relief in another way. Some healthy alternatives are:
- Clenching ice cubes in the hand until they melt
- Hitting a pillow or soft object
- Breathing exercises
- Writing on your arm in red pen
If you are worried about self-harming again, some other ways you can plan are:
- Make a plan for what to do if you self-harm again, how to do it safely, and who to tell if it happens.
- Learn to avoid or manage situations that make you want to self-harm using one of the distraction methods above
Step 4. Build a Safe Box- Your weekly challenge
Create a ‘Safe Box’ with things that bring you joy and happy memories and look at it the next time you feel like self-harming. Each week, reflect on your thoughts and feelings, and add something to your Safe Box. This could be digital—a playlist of the songs you listened to on a road trip, a collection of funny videos from social media, or a folder with photos from your favourite holiday.
Self-harming is often a sign of other mental health difficulties which can worsen over time if left untreated.
If you are self-harming, or have in the past and are worried about self-harming again, it’s important to speak to your GP.
There are some services that can help you but it’s a good idea to speak to someone you trust first so that you have some support in your day to day life.