Self harm

What is it?
Self harm refers to people deliberately hurting their bodies. Common types of self harm among young people include cutting (e.g. cutting the skin on arms, wrists or thighs), burning the skin, picking at wounds or scars, self hitting, or deliberately overdosing on medication, drugs or other substances that cause harm.

What do I need to know?
Most self harm is in response to intense emotional pain or a sense of being overwhelmed by negative feelings, thoughts or memories. For some young people it may seem there is no other way of dealing with what is going on, or expressing what they are feeling. Self harm may offer temporary relief but it does not help a person to overcome a problem over time.

Some people are more likely to self harm than others, including those who have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse or have a mental health problem such as depression. It is usually a build up of negative, stressful life events rather than one event that triggers self harm in young people.

There is an overlap between self harm and thinking about suicide however not everyone who self harms is suicidal. Sometimes people do very risky things and accidentally die or seriously injure themselves as a result of their self harm.

How can I help a young person who self-harms?
The best way to help someone is to provide support and encourage them to ask for professional help. Be as open with the person as possible and try to make them feel safe to discuss their feelings. Remain calm while recognising they might feel ashamed of their actions and worry about your judgements. Do not try to make ultimatums or force the person to stop, this could make things worse.

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