pink neon light signage. Representing self harm

In this edition we focus the Spotlight On … Self Harm

What is Self Harm?

Self harm is defined as a direct, deliberate, destruction of ones own body tissue, causing physical injury.

Types of self harm can include

  • Cutting or burning of the skin
  • Punching or hitting themselves
  • Picking or scratching of the skin
  • Hair pulling including pulling out eye lashes
  • Overdosing
  • Drinking harmful chemicals
  • Hitting or slapping themselves, or banging their head against something
  • Throwing oneself against something or jumping from a height

Why do people self harm? People self harm because they are unhappy. There are links between depression and self harm. It is more common than people realise and is increasingly common among younger people. It is feared that in the UK we are experiencing an epidemic, with nearly 19,000 children and young people in 2018 being hospitalised for self harm in England and Wales.

Once someone starts to self harm it can become a very repetitive behaviour, therefore early interventions are extremely important. Self harm is usually a hidden or secret act therefore if someone wants to disclose this information to you, or you have suspicions someone is self harming it is important that you give them the opportunity, in a safe place to talk.

According to the NSPCC some of the reasons children and young people have given for self harming include……

  • They are being bullied
  • They feel under too much pressure at school to do well
  • They are experiencing relationship problems either with their family or friends

And due to this they feel lonely, sad, angry, they have low self-esteem and low confidence and they feel a lack of control over their own life. Self harm is often used as a coping mechanism.

The self harm cycle is the pattern that self harm goes through. Usually there is some build up of tension and emotion. For example someone may already feel low on self esteem, have self loathing or self disgust and this emotional pain will continue to build. There will then be a trigger event, it will trigger deep in to the well of emotion and may be something that reminds them of pain or suffering they have gone through. When this happens the person will use self harm to try and break the cycle. This is when the self harming action takes place, followed by the relief. When the self harm action takes place endorphins are released, although there is intense pain there is also a psychological response where the endorphins release a sense of relaxation, this is the craving that the individual is searching for. Following the event of self harm the individual will then go in to care mode and take care of their wounds. Following this stage they will then feel guilt and shame about what they have done, and the cycle will continue to repeat itself.

How to spot the warning signs…..

  • Cuts, bruises, burns which are commonly on the head, wrist, arms, thighs and chest
  • Bald patches from where the hair has physically been pulled out
  • Look for signs of depression, tearfulness and low motivation
  • Becoming withdrawn and isolated, wanting to spend a lot of time alone
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Low self-esteem and self-blame
  • Drinking or taking drugs

Getting help…….

If you have concerns about a child or young person you can:

  • Speak to the child, ask them if they would like to talk to you about anything, they may want to seek help and support but confused on what is happening or how they are feeling
  • Speak to their school, they will have experience of dealing with self harm and may be able to refer the child to the school counsellor. Ask to speak to the person in charge of child protection
  • Speak to your child’s GP, your family doctor can help and support you to get appropriate referrals as well as treating them for any infections caused by self harm
  • You can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 for further advice and support
  • Encourage your child to seek help and support from ChildLine, they have trained counsellors who can help your child and talk through their emotions 0800 1111

Related information

An offline version of this edition of Spotlight on is available here

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