Self Harm

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is a way of expressing deep emotional feelings such as low self-esteem, or a way of coping with traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one.

If you are self-harming, you should see your GP for help. You can also call the Samaritans on 116 123 for support or visit the website of Mind (a mental health charity) for further advice. Read more about where to get help if you self-harm.

Self-harm is an expression of personal distress, rather than an illness, although it can be linked to other mental health conditions such as depression. Read more about the causes of self-harm.

Research has suggested that self-harm is most common among 15-19-year-olds, and those suffering from anxiety and depression.

Signs of self-harm

Types of self-harm may include:

• cutting the skin
• burning the skin
• punching your own body
• poisoning yourself with tablets
• misusing alcohol or drugs
• eating disorders, such as deliberately starving yourself (anorexia nervosa), binge eating or bulimia

People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame or fear of discovery. For example, they may cover up their skin and avoid discussing the problem. It may, therefore, be up to close family and friends to notice when somebody is self-harming, and to approach the subject with care and understanding. The signs may include unexplained injuries and signs of depression or low-self esteem. Read more about the signs of self-harm.

Someone who is self-harming can seriously hurt themselves, so it is important that they speak to a GP about the underlying issue and about any treatment or therapy that might help them.

Causes of self-harm

There are many reasons why people self-harm, but the causes usually stem from unhappy emotions.

Self-harming has been described as a “physical expression of emotional distress”. If somebody is feeling overwhelmed with unhappy emotions, they may find that the physical act of hurting themselves makes them feel better.

If you are feeling like this, you can speak to your GP, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 for support or visit the website of Mind, a mental health charity, for further advice.

Social factors and trauma

Research has shown that social factors commonly cause emotional distress in people who self-harm. These include:

• difficult relationships with friends or partners
• difficulties at school, such as not doing well academically
• difficulties at work
• being bullied, either at home, school or work
• worries about money
• alcohol or drug misuse
• coming to terms with your sexuality if you think you might be gay or bisexual
• coping with cultural expectations, for example, an arranged marriage

Self-harm could also sometimes be a way of coping with a traumatic experience. For example:

• sexual, physical or emotional abuse, including domestic abuse and rape
• the death of a close family member or friend
• having a miscarriage

Emotional distress

The distress from a traumatic experience or an unhappy situation can lead to feelings of low self-esteem or self-hatred. You could also have feelings of:

• anger
• guilt
• anxiety
• loneliness
• grief
• numbness or emptiness
• feeling unconnected to the world
• being unclean, unworthy, trapped or silenced if you have been abused

The emotions can gradually build up inside you, and you may not know who to turn to for help. Self-harm may be a way of releasing these pent-up feelings and finding a way to cope with your problems. It is not usually an attempt to seek attention, but a sign of emotional distress.

Some research has suggested that people who self-harm may have difficulty managing or “regulating” their emotions. They use self-harm as a way of managing tension and anger. Research has also shown that people who self-harm are poorer at problem solving.
Self-harm is linked to anxiety and depression. These mental health conditions can affect people of any age. Self-harm can also occur alongside antisocial behaviour, such as misbehaving at school or getting into trouble with the police.

Psychological causes

In some cases there may be a psychological reason for the self-harming (where the cause is related to an issue with your mind). For example:

• you may hear voices telling you to self-harm
• you may have repeated thoughts about self-harming and feel like you have to do it
• you may disassociate (lose touch with yourself and your surroundings) and self-harm without realising you are doing it
• it can be a symptom of borderline personality disorder (a condition that causes instability in how a person thinks, feels and behaves)

National Numbers


Offers help and support , they hold group meetings where you can meet other people and will be offered help on ways to cope.



24 hr National Help line 116 123

This is run by volunteers who will give advice and a chance to speak to someone who understands how you feel.




Tel: 07813 596505 Or 01482 870577


Regional Numbers


Mind –

01482 240200


Mind – 0

01296 437328


Mind –

01744 677058


Mind –

01302 812190


Mind –

020 8788 0070


Mind –

0151 4953 991


Mind –

01264 332297


Mind –

01622 692383

Huntingdon Cambridge

Mind –

01223 311320


Mind –

01455 890168

Exeter Devon

Mind –

01392 204493

Berkeley Gloucestershire

Mind –

01453 54739