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What is self-harm?:

What causes someone to self-harm?:

I am concerned about someone self-harming – what can I do?:

I am someone who uses self-harm – what can I do?:

Self-harm and suicide:

Myths and facts:


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What is self-harm?

The term ‘self-harm’ usually refers to someone intentionally causing themselves harm. Self-harm is often a physical response to emotional pain and/or intolerable experiences. It can also include self-neglect and engaging in risk-taking behaviour. Self-harm has a function for every individual who self-harms and stopping is not always straightforward even when you want to. Whether you are someone who self-harms, or you care about someone who self-harms, the following information is intended to shed some light on, what can be, a highly stigmatised and complex subject.

What causes someone to self-harm?

For many young people self-harm is used as a coping mechanism. However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s reasons for self-harming are individual to them. Control, release, punishment, compulsion and expression are just a selection of reasons as to why someone may injure themselves. Sometimes, self-harm can also be a reaction to overwhelming life events that may feel unmanageable e.g. traumatic experiences in childhood such as abuse.

I am concerned about someone self-harming – what can I do?

In some situations there are clear signs that a young person is self-harming, at other times it can be harder to tell. If you think someone you care for is harming themselves, we encourage you to reach out to them. It’s not always an easy conversation to have – but we recommend:

  • Asking sensitively and directly if they have been harming themselves
  • Managing your reactions and remaining calm
  • Exploring the reasons behind their self-harm
  • Listening to their explanation
  • Trying to understand what’s happening from their point of view
  • Avoiding taking control of the situation
  • Encouraging them to seek support

I am someone who uses self-harm – what can I do?

The more you understand your own self harm, the more you can feel in control and hopefully less distressed. Understanding why you self-harm may help you talk about it with others too. There are steps you can take to ensure that you are safe and supported. Taking control of your self-harm can be really challenging – but we suggest:

  • Considering what self-harm does for you and the role of it in your life
  • Looking for patterns in your self-harm and keeping a diary
  • Exploring possible alternative coping mechanisms and distraction techniques
  • Caring for your injuries by accessing medical attention when needed and keeping a first-aid kit • Reaching out to someone you trust and talking things through
  • Getting some professional support in place by talking to your GP, a helpline or a young person’s counselling service
  • Remembering that things can change for you – there is HOPE

Self-harm and suicide

Self-harm is a struggle often shared with our Suicide Prevention Advisers at HOPELINE247. More than half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm (NHS 2018).

Self-harm may, or may not, be a sign that someone is feeling suicidal – it is very important to ask and not make assumptions. If you are a young person having thoughts of suicide – or you are concerned about a young person who may be suicidal – you can call HOPELINE247 on 0800 068 41 41 for practical advice and support.

Myths and facts

Myth: Young people who self-harm are just looking for attention.

Fact: The phrase ‘attention-seeking’ dismisses the real reasons causing someone to injure themselves. Consider what’s being communicated.

Myth: It’s just a phase – they’ll grow out of it.

Fact: Self-harm can affect any person at any age and is not something that only young people struggle with. There are many myths about self-injury. The best way to understand and support someone is to talk to them directly, being clear you are not judging them or trying to make decisions for them.

Further support

PAPYRUS – See the coping strategies on our ‘Help and Advice’ pages

Calm Harm

Young Minds

Life Signs

The Mix

Self-Injury Support

Self-Injury Support run a women’s helpline, text service and webchat support. You can contact their helpline on 0808 800 8088, the text service on 07537 432 444 and access webchat through their website.

These services are all open 7pm – 9.30pm, Tuesday – Thursday. There are also lots of resources and self-help links on their website.


Call: 0800 068 4141

Text: 88247


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