Understanding Self-Harm

There are various statistics around the prevalence of self-harm among young people. However, the truth is, it’s almost impossible to confirm the actual numbers. All we know is that girls are more likely to self-harm than boys, mainly due to boys punching a wall or engaging in behaviours that don’t come to the attention of a hospital, whereas girls are more likely to seek help and open up about their feelings and destructive behaviours.1 It’s scary to think that we don’t know how common self-harming is due to the unlikelihood of teenagers reporting it, but what’s less scary is knowing that whether you’re harming yourself or seeing someone else hurting themselves, you’re not alone.

What research can tell us is that around 13% of young people may try to hurt themselves on purpose between the ages of 11 and 16 (although the percentage is likely to be much higher), and a fifth (22%) of 14-year olds girls in the UK have self-harmed.2

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when someone intentionally damages or injures their body, usually as a way of coping or expressing emotional distress.3 In some cases, people who self-harm feel on some level that they want to die. More than half the people who’ve committed suicide have a history of self-harming behaviours. For others, a habit of punishing themselves or relieving tension is the cause; and sometimes it can be a cry for help.


Who self-harms?

Self-harming can affect anyone. There’s no typical type of person who hurts themselves, and the ages someone does so can range from 4 to 60 years old!4 The triggers that cause a person to self-harm usually stem from a difficult experience. Some examples include:

• School or work pressures
• Bullying
• Money worries
• Sexual, physical or emotional abuse
• Bereavement
• Confusion about sexuality or gender identity
• The breakdown of a relationship
• The loss of a job
• An illness or health problem
• Low self-esteem
• Increased stress
• Difficult feelings, such as depression, anxiety or anger
• Numbness or disassociation

Where can you get help?

There are many ways you can seek support if you need help overcoming self-harm. If going to your GP is scary, there are some things you can try for yourself first.

• Practise self-care and learn to understand your patterns of self-harm. Recognise your triggers and what gives you the ‘urge’ to hurt yourself by writing down your thoughts, feelings and what caused them as they happened. Doing this will build a picture of your patterns over time, helping you become aware of both the physical and emotional sensations as they’re triggered.

• Once you’re aware of your patterns and urges, identify what your overriding feeling in those moments is, then look for ways to distract or indulge in it in a non-harmful way. This allows more time for you to breathe and reduce the intensity of your feelings. Think about writing a diary or love letter to yourself, taking a walk, dancing, playing your favourite music, reaching out to someone you trust, yoga, tidying your room, holding an ice-cube, hugging a pet, baking a cake, avoiding anyone who makes you feel sad, letting yourself feel sad without punishing yourself by crying or shouting into a pillow, finding a creative outlet, and remembering that your behaviour comes from somewhere and it’s not because you are bad or deserve it. You and your body deserve love and respect.

If you’ve tried these techniques and they’re not working for you, we recommend making an appointment with your GP so you can talk about receiving further support. Your GP is able to refer you to a healthcare professional or mental health service for further assessment. This isn’t a scary step: it’s a brave one. The assessment team are on your side and will work out a treatment plan with you to help ease your feelings of distress. Therapy is an incredible tool to work through your triggers and needs, and in cases where you feel particularly hopeless, other options like antidepressants are available, for however long you need to get to the bottom of why you want to hurt yourself.

There is no shame in seeking help. You deserve to feel whole and well, and there is a wealth of support ready to empower you so you can live a happy and full life, free from the feelings that cause you to self-harm.

For further information and support on how to cope with self-harming, visit our help page here.


  1. PPDIL.org. What are the baby blues? Source article: https://www.selfharm.co.uk/get-information/the-facts/self-harm-statistics
  2. NHS. Overview of Postnatal Depression. Source link: https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/nearly-quarter-14-year-old-girls-uk-self-harming-charity-reports/
  3. NHS. Self harm overview. Source link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/self-harm/
  4. Mind.org. Self-harm. Source article: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-harm/why-people-self-harm/
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