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Deliberate self harm - advice for young people

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Deliberate self harm involves the purposeful hurting of your body, often as a way of coping with distressing or difficult feelings and thoughts. This sometimes involves cutting/scratching the body or non-lethal drug overdoses. It can also include other high risk behaviours intended to hurt oneself. We think about 10 -20% of young people harm themselves, but will often hide this behaviour from others because they feel ashamed or worried about it.

Self harm is behaviour with different functions, depending on the individual, such as:

- To reduce overwhelming feelings such as sadness, fear, or shame
- To ‘feel’ something where there is an absence of emotion or a numbness
- To reduce tension or anxiety
- To act as an avoidance of emotions, by focusing on bodily pain
Signs and symptoms

If you or someone you know is self-harming, there are often signs to suggest you or they might need help .

  • Withdrawal from others and everyday life
  • Feeling low in mood, lacking in motivation/ not wanting to do stuff anymore
  • Changes in mood, feeling more anxious than usual
  • Thinking about suicide, or talk about self-harm
  • Hiding things to use to self-harm
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Changes in eating/sleeping habits
  • Risk taking behaviour (substance misuse, unprotected sexual acts), deliberately not following advice to manage a health condition e.g. missing medication/insulin etc NOTE – not due to anxiety or memory etc
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or marks
  • Covering up all the time, even in warm weather
  • Lacking energy
How to get help

If you have been self-harming, or are experiencing thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself, it is very important that you seek help.

  • Tell someone you can trust about this. This could be a parent, teacher or close friend. Sometimes the act of sharing can help to begin conversations about other things which are driving the urge to harm yourself.
  • If you would prefer to tell someone you don’t know, there are links to helpful phone numbers and websites at the end. These phone lines offer anonymous, confidential support from staff trained to help.
  • Let the person know what you feel comfortable talking about, or what you think you’d want them to do to help. They may suggest speaking to a GP, or if you are very worried, calling 111 for further advice.
  • If you have recently cut or harmed yourself, it is really important that you seek medical care. Wounds will need to be treated to avoid infection. Medical staff at local A&E and minor injuries are trained to support young people who have self-harmed, and can also refer you to mental health clinicians for further input if needed.
Useful apps and websites

Young Minds

Whether you are a young person wanting to understand more about how you're feeling and find ways to feel better, or you want to support someone who's struggling, Young Minds can help.

Breathing Space

Breathing Space aims to provide:

  • an alternative and easily accessible ‘first stop’ service
    assistance at an early stage in order to stop problems escalating
  • empathy, understanding and advice through active listening
  • hope when none exists
  • direction for those who do not know where to seek help

So don't let problems get out of hand, phone Breathing Space, where experienced advisors will listen and offer information and advice. Tel: 0800 83 85 87

Calm Harm

Calm Harm is an award-winning app developed for teenage mental health charity stem4 by Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist.

Calm Harm provides tasks to help you resist or manage the urge to self-harm.


SafeSpot is an app designed to help young people improve their coping skills.

As well as links to download the app, the website contains games and resources to support mental health.

Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 18 January 2022

Next review: 31 March 2025

Approved By: Paediatric Psychology Service