Worried because you're self-harming, or you think your child might be?

Teenage girl in playground

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose. It is often related to emotional pain, which is difficult to express. 

Some people self-harm to divert their internal pain externally, but this is only temporary and there are healthier ways to cope with what's going on in your life.

Advice for young people who are self-harming

  • Speak to a trusted family member or friend.
  • See your GP. There are healthy ways to release emotional pain and reduce or stop self-harming, such as seeing a therapist to discuss your thoughts and feelings.
  • Read information from reliable sources (such as Young Minds) to learn about self-harm and its effects.
  • Some people find things like squeezing cornflakes, holding ice or writing on their arm in red pen have some benefits without as many risks.
  • Remember self-care. If you do self-harm, you must make sure you do everything you can to reduce the risk of something very serious happening. This means keeping things clean to reduce risk of infection, and not locking doors so someone can always help you if you need it.
  • Do not keep yourself isolated. Spend time with family and friends who have a positive impact on how you feel.
  • You can call Childline (0800 1111) for advice around the clock.

For more advice for young people about self-harm, visit Young Minds.

Advice for parents

If you are worried your child may be self-harming, here are some signs to look out for:

  • unexplained injuries
  • keeping themselves covered
  • being withdrawn or isolated from friends and family
  • low mood, lack of interest in life, depression or outbursts of anger
  • blaming themselves for problems or expressing feelings of failure, uselessness, or hopelessness.

What to do if your child is self-harming

  • Don't bombard your child with lots of questions.
  • Keep an eye on your child but avoid 'policing' them because this can increase their risk of self-harming. 
  • Remember the self-harm is a coping mechanism. It is a symptom of an underlying problem.
  • Keep open communication between you and your child. Remember they may feel ashamed of their self-harm and find it very difficult to talk about.
  • It is important to keep a sense of normality as this will help your child feel secure and emotionally stable.
  • Seek professional help. Your child may need a risk assessment from a qualified mental health professional. Talk to your GP and explore whether your child can be referred to your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  • Discovering and responding to self-harm can be a traumatic experience – it’s crucial that you seek support for yourself. It’s natural to feel guilt, shame, anger, sadness, frustration and despair – but it’s not your fault.
  • If you want more advice and support on how you can help you can contact the YoungMinds Parents Helpline on 0808 802 5544. 

Find more information about self-harm from Young Minds, Mind UK or the Royal College of Psychiatrists.