Mental health and self-harm (2/2)


Self-harming is when a person deliberately hurts themselves as a way of coping with problems. People who self-harm might cut themselves with blades or scissors (the most common form of self-harming), pull their own hair, strike themselves with their fists or objects, burn themselves with hot water or hot object, or use other ways to hurt themselves.

People who self-harm often do it as a way of coping with intense and difficult feelings. A person might self-harm for a short period of time while they’re experiencing particular difficulties, while others may do it for years. Self-harm is usually a very private activity, so it’s hard to know if someone is doing it. Gay, bisexual, and transgender, people aged between 15 and 25, and those with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, are considered to be higher risk groups.

Low self-esteem (not liking yourself very much), distress over sexuality, and pressures at home or in school can all be triggers for self-harm.

A person might self-harm when they experience very intense feelings that they find hard to cope with or don't know how to manage. By hurting themselves they bring about a feeling of relief and calm so that life feels a little easier to deal with for a while; it's a way of letting off emotional steam. Self-harm can be a way of giving voice to emotional pain and gaining a sense of control over it. If a person if very depressed they may feel quite detached and numb. They may use self-harm as a way to feel more connected and alive. Self-harm can also be an expression of anger that a person has toward themselves. They may be punishing themselves for, in their eyes, 'messing something up' or being a bad person.

Self-harm and suicide are different things, and not everyone who self-harms intends to harm themselves severely or kill themselves.

Overcoming self-harm

  • Decide that you want to stop
    This is a big first step. Think about why you self-harm, how and when it started, and think about how you might address the root cause.
  • Talk to your doctor
    You may be suffering from underlying problems like depression and/or anxiety, that the doctor can help you with. Your doctor may also refer you for counselling which would give you the opportunity to talk about your problems with a trained professional.
  • Talk to someone about it
    A friend, teacher, school counsellor or family member. Deciding who to talk to is up to you, but it’s important to speak to someone you trust and has been supportive and trustworthy in the past. You may prefer to talk to a professional (like a doctor) instead of a friend if you are worried about your privacy. Keep in mind that some people will find self-harm hard to understand. Be patient and calm with them and try to explain it as best you can.
  • Distract yourself
    If you feel the urge to self-harm, try to do something else to occupy yourself until the urge passes. Do something you enjoy like spending time with a friend, going for a walk, watching your favourite film, listening to music, dancing, reading, being creative (painting, drawing, writing a poem, playing a musical instrument), go for a bike ride etc. You may find that physical activity that leaves you a little tired works best for you, and that exercise enables you to work out frustrations and anger. Going for a jog and tiring yourself out is better than hurting yourself. Find an activity that works for you.
  • Safe alternatives to self-harm
    Hit or scream into a pillow, flick elastic bands against your skin, hold ice cubes tightly in your hand or against areas of your body you want to cut or hurt, bite into something sour or unpleasant (but not poisonous) like a lemon or raw ginger.
  • Wait
    When you feel the urge to self-harm, try to wait a while before doing anything. You may find that you calm down in this time and don’t feel such a strong urge to do it. Try to wait longer each time.
  • First aid
    Have first aid supplies to hand, like bandages and antiseptic cream.