Going to your GP about self-harm

Talking to your doctor (GP) about self-harming can feel very scary. It might be the first time you’ve spoken to anyone about self-harm, and you may be wondering whether they’ll be supportive or if they’ll judge you. The Mix answers any questions you might have about going to your GP about self-harm.

boy talking to doctor

Even though it's daunting, telling your GP you self-harm can help.

Jump to section:

  1. Your GP and self-harm treatment
  2. Questions your doctor might ask you about self-harm
  3. FAQs for talking to your doctor about self-harm

Your GP and self-harm treatment

Going to your GP about self-harm can be terrifying, particularly if you’re going to discuss something as intimate and personal as self-harm. But it can be one of the most helpful steps you can take in your road to recovery. It’s perfectly normal that you might not know what to tell them and to be worried about what reaction you’ll get.

However, there are some guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). They advise health professionals about self-harm, and how they can understand and treat you. A lot of this revolves around creating an atmosphere of respect and understanding.

NICE recommends that you should be offered a full assessment of your physical, psychological and social needs. This should be done by a professional who’s trained in the treatment of people who harm themselves.

Will my doctor judge me for self-harm?

Most GPs will have experience in treating people with mental health problems. It’s likely that you’re not the first person to go to them about self-harm, so you needn’t worry that they won’t understand you.

If you’re joining a new practice and you’re worried that your new doctor won’t be able to help, it’s worth asking if one of the GPs has a particular interest in mental health.

“For people who’ve made the decision to go to the doctors it’s a big deal because they’re in huge amounts of distress and will be very concerned about how they’ll come across” says Katie, 22.

“Unfortunately, doctors can look at you from a medical perspective and in terms of symptoms and risk, rather than emotional angst. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go or that they are not capable of understanding, but it might require some patience in explaining yourself.”

Questions your doctor might ask you about self-harm

If you’ve taken the step to make an appointment with your GP to discuss self-harm, you’ve already done one of the most difficult parts of getting help. The next step is to make the most of your GP appointment, to help them accurately assess what level of help you need. It’s likely that they’ll ask you some questions to help the conversation along, such as:

  • How do you self-harm?
  • Where and how often?
  • When did you start self-harming?
  • What triggers it?

They’ll want to find out how you are feeling, whether you feel your self-harm is getting worse, if you’re:

They may ask questions about your sleeping, appetite, mood, and what is going on in your life, in order to establish this.

Do I have to show my doctor my injuries?

It’s possible that if you’ve cut or burned yourself, your doctor may ask to see your injuries. Of course, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. It might feel uncomfortable and exposing, but it will help your GP to assess things like:

A referral from your GP will normally be required to get specialist mental health support on the NHS. It’s important that you be as honest as you can to create as clear a picture as possible about what’s going on and the help you feel you need – particularly if your self-harming is putting you at long-term risk.

FAQs for talking to your doctor about self-harm

If you’re going to see your doctor to talk about your self-harming, you might not only be concerned with the questions they might ask you. Equally, you might be feeling anxious about what you should say to them.

What information should I share with my GP?

The sort of information you might share is completely up to you, but it is best that you tell them as much as you feel able to. For example, it could be helpful if you can tell them:

  • What kind of help you would like (such as someone to talk to, or advice on self-injury care)
  • Whether you have some idea of why you self-harm
  • If you know that certain situations make you feel like self-harming
  • You use self-harm as a way of coping but would like to stop

The more information they have the better able they are to work out what kind of help you need, so explain as much as you can. It’s likely they’ll have heard stories similar to yours before, so they’ll more than likely know how to talk to you about it sensitively.

Read our guide to telling someone that you self-harm

Can I take someone with me to my GP?

If you feel uncomfortable about going to see your GP on your own, take a friend or relative with you. They can provide support, and help you remember what was said. But remember the consultation is about you and your needs, so think about what support you’d like to receive without being influenced by others.

What can I do if I feel nervous about talking to my doctor?

If you’re worried that you won’t say the right things or that you’ll forget important information that you want to tell your doctor, you could try taking notes with you. You may also find it helps you to remember what you talked about if you write down the answers they give you, especially if nerves get in the way.

Good doctors often have free printouts or leaflets you can take away with you, self-help strategies, and other support services in your area you may wish to consider.

What if I don’t understand what my doctor said?

If something is said during your appointment that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask what it means. If you have a question after your consultation, your GP will usually be happy to chat to you on the phone. They may not be available at the exact time you call, but they should call you back on the same day.

What happens if I don’t agree with my doctor?

If you don’t feel comfortable and don’t trust a particular GP or health professional, go elsewhere. Some health professionals may appear shocked or frustrated by your actions if they don’t understand what you’re going through, but this kind of reaction is rare.

It’s important that they don’t make you feel judged or pushed into anything you don’t want to do. You have the right to choose – what’s important is that you get the help you need and what feels best for you.

Next Steps

  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • RecoverYourLife.com is an online community where you can get peer support for self-harm and other mental health problems.
  • 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.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 17-Jan-2021

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