self harm word cloud

What is Self-harm?

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.

Self-harm is more common than many people realise, especially among younger people. In most cases, people who self-harm do it to help them cope with unbearable and overwhelming emotional issues. These issues can lead to a build-up of intense feelings of anger, hopelessness and self-hatred which result from various situations such as:

  • hurtful relationships – such as being bullied, having difficulties at work or school, or having difficult relationships with friends or family
  • trauma – such as physical or sexual abuse, or the death of a close family member or friend
  • mental health conditions – such as depression or borderline personality disorder

Although some people who self-harm are also at a high risk of ending their lives, many people who self-harm do not want to end their lives. In fact, the self-harm may help them cope with emotional distress so they do not feel the need to kill themselves.

There are many different ways people can intentionally harm themselves:

  • cutting or burning their skin
  • punching themselves
  • poisoning themselves with tablets
  • misusing alcohol or drugs
  • deliberately starving themselves (anorexia nervosa) or binge eating (bulimia nervosa)


How does Self-harm develop?

When people self-harm they often do so to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension. Self-harm can also be a cry for help.

People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame or fear of discovery.

It is thus, often up to close family and friends to notice the signs that may include unexplained injuries and signs of depression or low self-esteem.

Someone who is self-harming can seriously hurt themselves. It is important to approach the subject with care and understanding. Speaking to a qualified professional about the underlying issue is a first step to treatment or therapy that is likely to help them.

Read more about the signs of self-harm.