What is self-harm?


The phrase self harm is used to describe a range of things that people do to themselves in a deliberate and sometimes hidden way.  It can involve:

  • cutting
  • burning
  • scalding
  • banging or scratching ones’ own body
  • breaking bones
  • hair pulling
  • swallowing poisonous substances or objects

Research shows that 1 in 10 young people in Britain have self-harmed, however this figure may be higher due to young people not seeking help.  National statistics have shown that young people are generally between 11 -25 years old when they seek help for self harm. This may mean that on average two people in every secondary school classroom have self harmed at sometime and about four times as many girls as boys self-harm. 

Young people may start self-harming to help cope with their feelings.  Self-harm isn’t about ‘attention seeking’ as most self harm is actually done in secret.  Self harm can often leave people feeling isolated at a time when they need help the most.   It can be habit forming.  It has been linked to pleasurable chemicals being released in the body that make you more likely to repeat this behaviour due to the rewarding nature of the chemicals. However, it’s important to understand what self-harming means to each individual young person who does it.  Young people who self-harm may not be trying to kill themselves but are possibly trying to cope with difficult feelings and circumstances.

What to do

If you are approached by a young person who is self-harming please contact your local CAMHS service for a consultation.  

If someone’s self harm is of an immediate risk call 999 or refer them to A&E

For more information on self-harm and young people click here.

Post authored by Marie-Anne McKee and Lesley Dougan

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