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

You should:

  • 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:

As a patient

As a patient, relative or carer using our services, sometimes you may need to turn to someone for help, advice, and support. 

Patient Advice and Liaison service  Contact the Trust