Self-harm is when people hurt themselves or damage their health on purpose. It is much more common than people realise.

March 1, 2016

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when people hurt themselves or damage their health on purpose. It is much more common than people realise. It is often seen as a way of dealing with difficult and intense feelings. A common myth is that self-harm is “attention-seeking behaviour.” As most self-harm takes place in private over a period of time and people often feel ashamed of what they are doing it is difficult to accept that it is “attention-seeking behaviour”. It is a coping strategy. Both boys and girls self-harm. Young people from all backgrounds can self-harm.

Some people only self-harm once or twice but others do it regularly and it can be hard for them to stop.

People self-harm in many ways. Below are some examples:

  • Cutting or scratching
  • Hitting, punching or pinching self
  • Pulling out hair
  • Over/under eating
  • Burning
  • Drinking alcohol or taking drugs

Why do people self-harm?

Many young people experience painful emotions which they don’t know how to deal with or where to get help from. Sometimes they feel hopeless and helpless and these feelings can lead to self-harm.

Young people often say:

  • That physical pain is easier to cope with than emotional pain
  • It is a form of release or a distraction from their thoughts and feelings
  • It is the only way they can cope with past or current events
  • It can be a way of punishing themselves

Most self-harm is done privately and it can be hard to notice the signs.

Some factors that young people say trigger self-harm include:

  • Being bullied
  • Stress and worry about school, college and exams
  • Family relationship issues
  • Past or current experience of abuse
  • Feeling they have no control over their lives
  • Bereavement
  • Feeling isolated and lonely not feeling that they fit in
  • Confusion about sexuality

If you are self-harming and would like to stop what can you do?

Listed below are some distraction techniques which might help.

  • Talk with a family member, friend, tutor or counsellor
  • Watch a favourite TV programme or movie
  • Try and get out of the house and get some fresh air
  • Write down your feelings and thoughts about what has triggered the urge to self-harm
  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Try some drawing, colouring or just doodling
  • Scream or punch a pillow
  • Ping an elastic band on your wrist or skin
  • Hold ice in your hands

One young person said

It was a bit daunting at first….the thought of talking about things that upset me. However my counsellor was very welcoming and didn’t rush me into saying anything. I felt comfortable and that I was in control of how I could help myself.”

Useful links:


One of the organisations that can be accessed through the Dock is OnTrak, the local mental health counselling service. Aimed at young people aged 14-19, OnTrak works with young people who respond well to talk-based therapy.

Contact OnTrak through:


Tel 01793 464662

Find out more about OnTrak here:

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