What is self-harm?

Self-harm can take many different forms and can include any behaviour that is not in our best interests, that we use to try and deal with an emotional pain. Someone who is self-harming might do things like cutting and burning themselves, or they might also do a wide range of other things to help them deal with painful feelings.

We think it’s important to talk about self-harm so we can understand what it is, why people might do it, how they can do it safely and how they can access support. If you are self-harming, we want you to feel safe and comfortable opening up about your experiences and sharing your stories with others, so you know that you are not alone.

Recovering from self-harm

Self-harm can include many different types of behaviour. It can encompass a range of things that people do to themselves to deal with painful and difficult emotions. That means recovery can also look different for everybody.

In our video Maddie Bruce is talking about her own recovery from self-harm, her relationship with her scars and the power of starting a conversation.

View more videos here

FAQs

How can I get support for self-harm?

 

If you’ve been self-harming and you want to stop, there is plenty of help out there to enable you to do just that. It’s important that you go at a pace that you’re comfortable with. Some things you could try to stop self-harming are:

Talking to a friend or family member about self-harm

Try telling someone that you trust about your self-harming, so that they know you want help and so they can support you in case you relapse. If they felt comfortable and if you wanted them to, they could even attend appointments with you whilst you’re getting help from healthcare professionals.

Making an appointment with a GP for self-harm

If you feel uncomfortable talking to someone you know, then you might feel more comfortable talking to someone impartial, such as your GP. They’ll be able to:

Talking to online experts

You can get in touch with these organisations for support, advice and information. They are there for anyone who self-harms or thinks about self-harm, or parents, carers or friends of those who self-harm:

Support groups for self-harm

It can really help to simply talk to other people who also self-harm; it can help you realise that you’re not alone, and that there’s no need to feel shame or embarrassment about self-harm. Try these links to see if there are peer-led support groups in your area:

What should I do if someone tells me they're self-harming?

1. Don’t panic

Learning that someone you care about is self-harming can be difficult to bear, and can make you feel upset, confused or even angry. Don’t panic if you’re not sure how to react – often simply being there is enough.

2. Offer to listen

Allow the other person to speak without interruption or judgement. For them self-harm may feel like the only way to express very strong and deep-rooted emotions. If someone feels able to open up to you this can be a huge breakthrough, so try not to jump to conclusions or make any fast decisions.

3. Help them find support

Take the initiative and find out about mental health and other support services in the area. It may also help if you support your friend to make an appointment and offer to accompany them.

4. Be there for the long haul

Don’t expect a quick fix. Some people self-harm for years as a way of dealing with difficult emotions or situations. Most people don’t want to be defined by their self-harm, so keep on being a friend to them as normal too.

5. Look after yourself

It’s hard to support someone if you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of your depth. Setting boundaries to what you can offer and getting support for yourself are important.

Be honest about how you’re feeling and don’t take on more than you can cope with. If you’re feeling upset or struggling to cope yourself, talk to someone you trust – you’re doing a great thing by supporting your friend but if you’re worried or feeling down, make sure you speak to someone.

Why am I self-harming again?

 

Self-harming again after not doing it for a while isn’t anything to be ashamed of. You haven’t suddenly become weak, you haven’t lost your will-power, and you haven’t let yourself – or anyone else – down. Self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism, and there could be a number of reasons you’ve had a self-harm relapse. Whatever the reason, know that you’re not alone and we’re here for you. Head here to read our guide on coping with a relapse.

Why do people self-harm?

 

People self-harm for many reasons –  motivations and methods will differ from one person to another, for example a person might self harm:

  • As a way of coping with painful and difficult feelings and distress
  • Because they feel overwhelmed and don’t know how else to deal with things
  • To feel “in control” of their lives temporarily

Some forms of self-harm carry a serious risk, but this doesn’t mean someone who self-harms is always intending to cause themselves serious injury. Read our article to find out more.

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