Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm is the act of a person intentionally damaging their body by behaviour which results in pain or injury. People may self-harm as a means of coping with difficult feelings, such as overwhelm or distress, and acts of self-harm are often carried out in private. Self-harm can also be considered as high-risk behaviour, where a person may not be injured, but they choose to engage in activities which cause harm.
If you’re self-harming, you don’t have to go through this alone. You can learn to manage intense emotions in ways which don’t cause you harm. Read more about your support options here.

Table of Contents

Self-harm in numbers

Worldwide

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 62,000 adolescents died in 2016 as a result of self-harm. (Source)
Self-Harm Worldwide Stats

In the UK

Studies have found that 6.4% of 16-74-year olds in England report as having self-harmed at some point in their lives. (Source)
A 2017 study found that annual rates of self-harm for girls aged 10 to 19 was at 37 per 10,000 girls and 12.3 per 10,000 boys of the same age.
Prevelance of self-harm by sex for those aged 10 to 19

Northern Ireland

Self-harm NI Stats
Self-harm across the trust areas
Between 2013 – 2018, the A&E departments across the country’s five health trusts reported:
28 cases of self-harm a day on average.
Over 50,000 self-harm cases treated in five years
1,000 child cases annually (Source)
Mood disorders – including depression or anxiety disorders, which contribute to the risk of self-harm –  are 25% more common compared to other parts of the UK (Health and Social Care Board).

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is the act of a person intentionally damaging their body by behaviour which results in pain or injury and people who self-harm do so as a way of coping with difficult or distressing feelings. It can also be considered as high-risk behaviour, where a person may not be injured, but they choose to engage in activities which cause harm. Physical self-harm is often done on places of the body which aren’t easily seen by others, which makes it difficult for people to know when self-harm is occuring.

Why do people self-harm?

People of all ages, genders and backgrounds can self-harm, but while anyone can be affected, there are challenging life experiences which can result in a person self-harming more so than others.
Difficult life experiences can cause someone to self-harm as a way of transforming emotional pain into physical pain or sometimes self-harm may be a way of “feeling something” during feelings of numbness.
Common instigators of self-harm include:
Financial stress or worries

Job loss

Bereavement

Stress or pressure at school or work

Discrimination

Social isolation or loneliness

Relationships ending

Illness or health concerns

Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD

I’m self-harming, what do I do?

Managing self-harm can be a confronting experience learning to detach from harmful habits – but you can overcome these urges by learning coping techniques, identifying new habits to express how you feel and developing the right support network for you.
Try less harmful ways of expressing how you are feeling: holding ice cubes in your hand or snapping a rubber band on your wrist

Physical exercise: go for a run or a walk

Distraction techniques: scribbling over a blank page or writing down how you’re feeling

Sensation: have a cold shower, smell a strong odour or cleanse your muscles and relax

Create a sense of control: tidy, write up lists or declutter

Mindfulness or breathing techniques: box breathing can bring on feelings of calm

Counselling or therapy: Speaking with a therapist (hyperlink: counselling section of directory) can help you understand the reasons for self-harming and explore other coping techniques

When to seek immediate care

If you, or someone you know, is at risk of harm or you’re worried you can’t keep yourself or someone else safe until you get support, seek immediate help by calling 999 or going to A&E.
If you’re concerned about self-harm or have thoughts about self-harming, it’s important to get help:
Call your GP or out-of-hours GP for an emergency appointment

Call NHS 111 for advice

Contact your mental health crisis team, who are available in all trust areas. They can carry out a mental health assessment and provide short-term help until another service or support option is available. You can also ask your GP or your out-of-hours GP about the mental health crisis team in your area.
One common type of support for self-harm is psychological therapy. This can involve working through thoughts and feelings with a psychologist or other mental health professional in regular sessions over a set period of time. Psychological therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help teach strategies for recognising and coping with overwhelming or distressing thoughts and preventing further episodes of self-harm.

Helpful Resources

alumina logo
Lifeline is a telephone helpline and counselling for anyone in distress. It’s available 24/7 and free to call from your mobile.
Lifeline is a telephone helpline and counselling for anyone in distress. It’s available 24/7 and free to call from your mobile.
0808 808 8000
Mind Logo
Mind’s Infoline provides an information service where you can ask about mental health problems, where to get help near you and treatment options.
SANEline can support you or someone you know if you’re experiencing a mental health problem. Call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day)