What is Self-Harm?

What is Self-Harm?

One in 12 young people self-harm and it is usually in response to emotional distress. It is important to understand why a person self-harms and know how to support the individual.

Self-Harm - facts and myths

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. A person may use physical pain as a way of distracting themselves from emotional pain, giving them temporary relief.

Self-harm can be a way to:

  • cry for help
  • punish themselves
  • relieve tension
  • express distress.

Self-harm is not:

  • attention-seeking behaviour
  • something only girls do
  • something only teenagers do

Self-harm is sometimes seen as an indicator of suicidal intent. Many people who self-harm do not want to end their lives; it is often used as a coping mechanism.

However, a significant number of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm. It is therefore important that young people who are self-harming receive support.


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Types of self-harm

There are many ways in which people self-harm including:

 Cutting, scratching or burning the skin

Cutting and scratching of the skin can vary in severity. Some young people will cut themselves using sharp instruments such as knives and scissors. These cuts can be hidden away on the thighs or across the stomach. They can be deep wounds that may need medical care.

However, often harming will consist of repeated cutting or scratching causing superficial cuts or scratches which can be caused by items such as pens, rulers or pencil sharpeners.

Burning can be caused by heat or by freezing.

Punching or hitting

A person may repeatedly hit themselves or punch or bang their head against hard things.

Hair pulling

This can be the hair on the head, eyebrows or lashes.

Swallowing poisonous substances or objects

This can be deliberately swallowing chemicals such as bleach.

Self-poisoning with medications, drugs or alcohol

This can be drinking alcohol to excess or taking over the recommended amount of medication.

Is it Self-Harm? Less obvious methods to be aware of

There are also be less obvious methods of self-harm such as risk-taking behaviours which may be harder to identify. Young people may binge on food or starve themselves as a method of self-harm. As this does not cause any physical wounds it is more difficult to recognise.

Young men are more likely to self-harm by:

  • Over-exercising
  • taking illegal drugs
  • punching walls
  • drinking excessive alcohol
  • controlling their eating

Self-harm can become habit-forming and a familiar and normal way to respond to life’s difficulties. The individual may have initially felt temporary relief when they self-harmed because they felt in control of the situation, and also because of the release of endorphins which help block out physical and emotional pain. This is often followed by shame and guilt which causes the cycle to begin again.

Self-Harm Awareness Training Course

The above information was taken from our course which will help learners to:

  • recognise the signs of self-harm
  • know how to support young people who self-harm
  • know how to access professional support for self-harm

As well as the above information the course also covers:

  • Prevalence
  • Reasons why people self-harm
  • Signs of self-harm
  • Supporting children and young people who are self-harming
  • Ways to access support
  • First Aid

The course is available to buy online for £10.50 or can be purchased with courses on Anxiety and Depression as part of our Mental Health Awareness package for £30.


If you are concerned about yourself or anyone you know, the following organisations may be able to offer support:


0800 1111

Get Connected

Telephone and Email support for under 25’s who self-harm.

Telephone: 0808 808 4994


  A project supporting young people who are affected by self-harm      

Email: info@selfharm.co.uk

Self-Injury Support

Text and email service for young women who self-harm, UK-wide listings for self-harm support and self-help tools.

Email: info@selfinjurysupport.org.uk

Young Minds Crisis Messenger

24/7 crisis support across the UK.

Text YM to 85258


Email: jo@samaritans.org (UK)

         jo@samaritans.ie (ROI)

Telephone: 116 123


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