What is self-harm?
Self-harm is when someone intentionally sets out to harm themselves. This may be an impulsive act or may be planned.
Young people self-harm in different ways with the most common methods being:
- Cutting and scratching
- Hitting or punching oneself
- Head banging and hair pulling
- Engaging in risky behaviour
Around half of young people who self-harm will harm themselves more than once.
Thoughts of self-harm
- Thoughts of self-harm are common. Community surveys show that approximately 1 in 4 young people will have thoughts of self-harm over the course of a year.
- Of those who report thoughts of self-harm LESS THAN HALF will act on them and go on to harm themselves.
- Suicidal ideation where the young person expresses a GENUINE desire to die is rare.
- Thoughts of hopelessness such as “I wish I was dead” are common. It is therefore important to explore the meaning behind the words the young person says.
Acts of self-harm
- Around 1 in 10 young people aged 12-17 will harm themselves.
- Cutting and overdose are the commonest methods
- Girls are twice as likely as boys to self-harm
- We know little about self-harm in children. In adolescents self-harm increases from the age of 12
- Few acts of self-harm result in attendance at A&E with most remaining private and hidden.
Young People and Suicide
Fortunately, suicide in young people under the age of 18 is rare. However:
- Although rates are probably under-reported, in the UK, around 180-200 young people die by suicide each year.
- Children as young as 11 have died by suicide.
- Suicide rates increase with age and are higher in late teens.
- Boys are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as girls.
- Approximately half of those who die are not known to any agency or service.
Who is at risk of self-harm and suicide?
A number of factors have been found to be associated with self-harm and suicide. These include:
- Being female (self-harm) and male (suicide)
- Depression and low self-esteem
- Past abuse or trauma
- Gender orientation problems
- Drug and alcohol misuse
- Poor parental mental health
- Previous experience of suicide or self-harm
- Interpersonal difficulties and bullying
- Family problems
Why do young people self-harm?
Young people do not self-harm as a way of seeking attention. This is a myth. The three most common reasons why young people self-harm are:
- Tension relief – a number of young people are unable to deal with their unpleasant feelings and use self-harm as a way of relieving stress and tension.
- Self-punishment – young people who self-harm often have low self-esteem and feel that they are worthless or bad people who should be punished.
- To express distress – for some young people, self-harm is a way of showing others how bad they are feeling. They may use this as a way of reaching out to get help.
What might trigger self-harm?
Self-harm can be triggered by lots of different things that might create stress or unhappiness. These could include:
- Friendship issues
- Feeling alone
- Arguments with family
- Stress and worry about school work
- Feeling unhappy with yourself
- Feeling worthless
How should I react if a young person self-harms?
- Stay calm and don’t panic
- Let the young person know that you are concerned about them
- Make sure they are physically OK. If they have taken an overdose talk with their GP or go with them to the A&E Department
- Don’t be judgemental or say it was 'silly'
- Don’t ask them to promise not to self harm – this is unrealistic and makes it less likely that they will talk to you or anyone else again
- Talk about what happened and what triggered this
- They may be embarrassed or ashamed of what they did so be patient.
- The section on SLEEP can help you talk about self-harm and plan what help the young person needs.