Self-harm 1200 893 Team Mindsum
Last updated: 09 June 2021

This article covers:

  • What is Self-harm?

  • Self-harm and mental health

  • With whom or where to get help?

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is not easy to talk about, but it is helpful to learn as much as possible about it. Self-harm refers to when a person causes deliberate injury or damage to any part of their own body.  This can include:

  • Hitting, cutting, burning, pinching, skin picking

  • Ingestion of poisonous chemicals (e.g., tablets/toxins)

  • Binge eating or starvation

  • Misuse of alcohol and drugs

  • Excessive exercise or exercising despite injuries

Who self-harms?

Self-harm can affect anyone. Although, according to research it is very common in adolescence with approximately 10% of young people self-harming.

Others that are likely to self-harm can include those:

  • with experience of a mental health disorder

  • with substance abuse-related issues

  • that are part of the LGBTQ+ community

  • that are in prison

  • that are an asylum seeker

  • that lost someone by suicide

  • that survived any form of abuse

Why self-harm?

There are different reasons why a person might self-harm. Some might self-harm because of something painful that happened in the past and or due to a present situation. Others might self-harm without a clear reason why they do so.

Some common reasons for self-harming can include:

  • To change emotional pain into physical pain

  • To reduce overwhelming feelings

  • A sense of being in control

  • As a form of self-punishment

  • To turn unseen thoughts and emotions to something visible

  • To express feelings that are hard to put into words

  • To stop feeling numb and disconnected

  • To express suicidal feelings without going through with it.

It is important to know that self-harm is only a temporary way of finding relief. If you continue to self-harm, you can become trapped in a negative cycle of turning to self-harm whenever things get difficult.

The best way to find long-term relief is to learn more helpful and productive strategies of coping with difficult feelings or situations.

“You have to want to stop for yourself, nobody can make you, you have to recognise your worth and the wonderful influence you have, in the meantime, keep any wounds clean, and any items used sterile, use aftercare (like aloe vera) to limit scarring throughout the healing process.”

Roan – Mindsum Peer Support Worker

Self-harm and mental health

Self-harm itself is not a mental illness. But the behaviour of self-harming suggests that the person has unhelpful ways of coping.

Self-harm can be related to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Self-harm does not always mean that the person wants to end their life. It is a way through which the person chooses to cope with certain feelings or situations. However, sometimes self-harm might increase the risk of experiencing suicidal feelings.

Self-harm should always be taken seriously, which is why it is important to find the appropriate treatment to help the person replace self-harming behaviours with more helpful coping strategies.

“Prevention is key. Notice when the feelings begin and remove yourself from the situation. Small changes make a big difference and every little thing you can do helps to prevent the emotional intensity from building. I had to learn to be compassionate towards myself by giving myself time to practice self-care and stop doing things which caused me unnecessary stress.”

Alice – Mindsum Peer Support Worker

With whom or where to get help?

If you are feeling the need to hurt yourself, please call 999 as soon as possible or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency department. Here are some organisations who can help you 24/7 if you need urgent help.

One of the first steps to getting help is to tell someone. You don’t have to suffer alone. You might do this by letting a trusted adult know what is happening. This might include your teacher, school counsellor, parent, or a medical doctor.

Working with a counsellor or therapist can help you to work on the things that cause you to feel overwhelmed and develop valuable coping skills without having to self-harm.  Working with a professional can help you to break the cycle of self-harm and prevent it from becoming a serious problem in your life.

You can book a free initial consultation with a qualified mental health professional through our online service.

If you don’t feel ready to speak to a therapist, you can book a free call with one of our trained Peer support workers, who have personal experience of coping with difficult feelings and are willing to guide and support you.

You can also contact available helplines such as Childline (for under 19s) or The Mix (for under 25s), for support by people who are willing to listen and help you. 

Useful resources

Self Harm UK

You can read and access useful resources for young people about self-harm on the Self Harm UK website. Click here to access the link.

Young Minds

You can read and access resources about self-harm on the Young Minds website. Click here to access the link.


You can read and access useful resources about self-harm on the Mind website. Click here to access the link.


Click here to book free support sessions

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