Self harm: A guide for young people
What is self-harm?
Self-harm is when someone deliberately injures their body. This could be:
- scratching, cutting or burning the skin
- starving and/or overeating
- poisoning with tablets or dangerous substances
- drug and alcohol misuse
- punching or hitting
Why do people self-harm?
People self-harm for many different reasons, including: bullying, difficulties at school, a medical condition, problems at home, not feeling good about themselves, feeling lonely or unloved, or being a
victim of abuse.
Self-harm is a way of coping with emotional distress, painful thoughts, and feelings that are hard to express in words to someone.
They may self-harm to:
- release tension of emotional pain
- gain control over their feelings and life
- punish themselves
- show that they need help
However, self-harm is only a temporary relief and it won’t stop negative emotions from coming back.
- Young people who self-harm are more likely to attempt suicide.
- People who self-harm are just attention-seeking.
- People who self-harm generally do not want to die and use self-harm as a way to cope.
- People who self-harm are usually trying to let others know that they need help.
Spotting the signs of self-harm in a friend
- Unexplained cuts or burns
- Being secretive
- Plasters or bandages on show
- Making jokes that sounds like they are being harsh on themselves
- Cutting themselves off from others or loneliness
- Keeping their body covered up even in hot weather
- Changes in eating habits
- Blaming themselves for problems
- Thinking they are not good enough
- Drug and alcohol abuse
What to do if you think your friend might be self-harming
- Let them know you are there for them and care
- Treat them as usual – self-injury doesn’t make them abnormal, they are the same person
- Encourage your friend to seek help from a teacher, parent, trusted adult
- Be nice – tell them positive things about them to help them feel more positive with in themselves or their situation
You should not:
- Tell them to stop – self-harm is a coping mechanism for what they’re feeling
- Ask to see their scars or the method they use to hurt themselves
- Gossip to others about their situation
If your friend mentions suicide, don’t ignore it, tell a trusted adult or teacher (even if they ask you not to), suggest that you speak to someone together.
I'm struggling - what can I do?
- Talk about your feelings with an adult you trust
- Don’t allow yourself to become cut off from others
- Take care of your wellbeing and find ways to make life less stressful
- Avoid drinking alcohol if it’s likely to lead to you hurting yourself
- Eat well, exercise and try to get enough sleep
- Make a list of your positive qualities and look at it often
- Make a self-care box full of things that make you feel good (like photos and something sweet)
- If you self-harm, make sure you do so safely and take care of any injuries
Where can I get help?
If you’re using self-harm as a way to cope with your feelings, it’s important that you talk to someone and seek help. You can contact: