Expert chat: How do I cope with self-harm?

Our self-harm expert, RachelRachel from answers your questions on coping with self harm including how to talk about scars, finding distractions and dealing with judgmental reactions.

Jasper: How can I cope when I'm watching TV or surfing the internet and I see something that makes me want to harm?

Rachel: This is about knowing your triggers. If you know what they are you'll be able to be prepared in advance, which always helps. Don't be afraid of your triggers. They can't hurt you unless you let them. Sometimes sitting with a trigger for a few moments can empower you and make you feel stronger in that moment.

Anna: It's been a few years since I started self-harming as a way to cope. I've no longer got the support of CAMHS or social services and I've tried all sorts of distractions but self-harm has become a strong coping mechanism for me. I want to give it up but I don't think I can cope without it, what do you suggest I do?

Rachel: First up, although you might only be able to see the struggle at the moment, you actually have a lot of insight into how you're feeling and how you're coping. This is a really good thing. The wanting to give it up, is also a positive, as it shows you're getting closer to accepting that recovery might be a rocky path. If you don't have formal support, don't be deterred. Identify people around you that you can trust. It is possible to recover without being in 'the system'. Sometimes keeping a diary can help as it will help you spot any patterns to your mood.

Cath: How can I feel comfortable confiding in people offline about self-harm without being scared of their reaction?

Rachel: Firstly, how they react is their issue, not yours. That's a really hard thing for us to grasp when we're feeling vulnerable, but they're as responsible for their emotions as we are ours. Part of the reason we fear what others say is because as a society we're still not very good at communicating self-harm and what it means. We're trying to change this, but every conversation you have will make the next one easier.

Tash: If someone from college knows about your self-harm do they have to inform your parents?

Rachel: There's no hard or fast rule on this. Some schools and colleges will have it as part of their policy, while others will be less clear on what they should be doing. Age is also a factor, so if you're over 16 you often get a bit more leeway than if you're at school. Colleges want to help, so don't let the parent fear put you off asking for help, many colleges have counselling departments for example.

Jamie: Do you have any tips on how to reduce infections?

Rachel: Make sure that you understand what infections look and feel like and make sure you get them treated as soon as possible - a harmless looking infection can soon grow if not looked after. Make sure you take responsibility for any injuries by keeping a supply of clean, sterile dressings and don't aggravate old injuries. Let things heal. This article from has some more information on staying safe.

James: Our article on general first aid could also be useful Jamie.

May: I work in a school and sometimes the children ask why I have funny marks on my arm. I never know what to say and I'm not allowed to wear long sleeves. I don't know how to go about asking my tutor if I can wear something different as they don't know anything about it.

Rachel: Children are curious, and they're also wonderfully accepting. If they're asking then you need to work out what your reply is going to be. If you don't feel confident talking to your tutor then come up with another response - make something up if you have to for the time being.

Cath: I have also been in this situation. I usually say something like I have just bumped it or something, making the response something the children will understand usually helps.

Rachel: The marks on your arms are part of you, part of what makes you wonderfully unique and part of your story. It's totally possible to feel more comfortable with them as time goes on and as you feel ready. Even if you don't give your tutor chapter and verse of your entire life, you can always just ask for a bit of advice about the kids. After all, if the children have seen the marks, it's likely the tutors have to.

Next Steps

  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • selfharmUK provides information and advice about self harm. You can ask a question to their expert panel or share your story.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

Updated on 29-Sep-2015