Explains self-harm, including warning signs and how you can access treatment and support.
If you’re worried about acting on thoughts of suicide, or you’ve harmed yourself, you can call 999, go straight to A&E or call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 to talk.
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is an incredibly complex area, but at a basic level it happens when you hurt yourself on purpose. It can be a way of dealing with difficult feelings, painful memories, or challenging and overwhelming situations. Feelings of intense anger, guilt, hopelessness, self-hatred and depression are often associated with self-harm; you may also experience other challenging feelings.
Self-harming behaviours include: cutting yourself, picking or scratching at your skin, pulling your hair, burning yourself, among several others. It’s important to know that self-harm only brings a temporary relief, but there are many other healthier ways to cope and deal with your situation.
How can I help myself?
During intense urges, there are two main steps which you should try.
Firstly, understand your urges. This may help you identify what gives you the urge to self-harm, and to recognise when these urges are coming.
Learn to recognise triggers
‘Triggers’ are what give you the urge to hurt yourself. They can be people, situations, anniversaries, sensations, specific thoughts or feelings.
Practice noting down what was happening just before you self-harmed:
- did you have any specific thoughts?
- did a situation, person or object remind you of something difficult?
Become aware of the urge to self-harm
Urges can be associated to physical sensations as well as thoughts:
- racing heart, and rapid, shallow breathing;
- strong emotions, like sadness or anger;
- a disconnection from yourself or a loss of sensation;
- repetitive thoughts – for example, ‘I’m going to cut’.
Recognising your urges helps you take steps towards reducing or stopping self-harm. Try writing down what you notice about your urges, to help you spot them more quickly each time they come.
Distracting yourself from the urge to self-harm is a way of giving yourself more breathing space and reducing the intensity of the urge.
It can be done when you feel the urge, or as soon as you become aware that you’re hurting yourself.
Finding a distraction is one of the main ways people are able to help themselves. Different distractions work for different people, so it’s important to find what works best for you. Some ideas for distractions include:
- spending time with your pets;
- listening to music;
- clench then relax all of your muscles;
- hold ice cubes in your hands, take a cold shower or wash your face with cold water;
- clean some of your room (honestly, it can help!);
- try an app like Calm Harm – you can download it from the App Store or Google Play onto your mobile. It’s designed to help people resist or manage the urge to self-harm, based on the principles of dialectic behavioural therapy (DBT). It’s private and password-protected.
Helping yourself in the longer term may seem overwhelming and scary, but is definitely worth it for your future. It’s important to try to accept and process your feelings, build your self-esteem and self-worth, and reach out for support. It’s actually very brave to ask for support – sometimes support is needed to help you make a positive change.
Support options include: talking to your GP, talking to a professional or therapist, seeking support groups and also finding online support groups. Remember whoever is supporting you is there to listen and help you.
The Adolescent Self Injury Foundation is a non-profit organization which aims to raise awareness about adolescent self injury. The website provides education, prevention techniques, resources and research. Information regarding how parents and friends can help and understanding adolescent self injury is also available.
Battle Scars is a charity aiming to support people who self harm, their family, friends and carers. Based in Leeds the charity intends to tackle the stigma around self harm and delivers services to do so. The website has a resources section and a section for families. They have a moderated closed Facebook group run by their professionals, which you can find here.
Harmless is a user led organisation that provides a range of services about self harm and suicide prevention including support, information, training and consultancy to people who self harm, their friends and families and professionals and those at risk of suicide. Harmless was set up by people who understand these issues and at the heart of the service is a real sense of hope.
LifeSIGNS is an online user-led voluntary organization which provides self-injury guidance and network support. Their support forum offers anonymous 24 hour support. LifeSIGNS provides a range of information and help and works to guide people towards new ways of coping.
The Self-Harm Organisation supports people struggling with self harm and provides a range of resources about action plans and recovery.
This national organisation supports girls and women affected by self-harm. On the website you will find a collection of guidance, research and useful educational tools from many different sources.
There is also a wealth of information for those that self-injure, concerned others and professionals.
Text and email support:
Text this number: 0780 047 2908 or Email TESS online here.
Days: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Time: 7pm – 9pm.
‘TESS’ text and email support is available for girls and young women up to 24 years in the UK affected by self-harm.
If you don’t know how to start talking, just text or email ‘hello’.
TESS replies to all messages. Their aim is to text back within half an hour and to email within 24 hours during our opening times.
Sometimes, when they are very busy, messages will take longer – occasionally they have to reply to emails or texts the following day. You will receive an automated message from them letting you know if they are experiencing a high number of texts and emails.
Self Injury Helpline – 0808 800 8088
Days: Monday to Thursday.
Time: 7pm – 10pm.
‘CASS’ phone helpline is for women of any age and background affected by self-injury, whether their own or that of a friend or family member. It provides confidential non-judgmental emotional support around self-injury.
All calls are answered by female volunteers who have received specialist training. You can talk about anything you want to. They won’t tell anyone you called – unless you tell them exactly where you are and that you’re currently at risk of harm.
You don’t have to be in crisis or distress at the time you call. You can talk for up to half an hour each time they are open.
Self-Harm UK is a project which aims to support young people affected by self-harm. Alumina is their online based support group for 14 – 18-year-olds who self-harm. Live online group meetings are available. Alumina Live is a 6 part course which provides interactive support and encouragement. Each session takes place online at the same time each week. Their on-demand service is a video-based course.