Understanding Self-Harm, And Where To Go For Help

Understanding why people self-harm, and where to seek help and support

Self-harm refers to behaviours that people carry out with the intention of doing harm to themselves. Most commonly, it refers to self-injury, which can consist of biting, burning, bruising, cutting, and many other behaviours.

There are many reasons why a person may self-harm. For some, it can be due to a lack of healthy coping mechanisms with which to deal with an emotional trauma. These people may find it easier to deal with the physical pain of self-harm than the emotional pain of what they are experiencing.

For others, it can be a technique to break through the barrier of numbness which can come with prolonged bouts of mental illness; feeling that even physical pain is better than feeling absolutely nothing.

Self-harm comes with some very real risks. Not only is there the possibility of scarring and/or serious injury, it is also possible to become psychologically addicted to self-harm, as the act of self-harming prompts a release of “happy hormones”, called endorphins. These cause a “high”, similar to that produced by drugs.

It can be harder to stop self-harming if you have been doing so for a long period of time. But no matter how long you’ve been self-harming for, it is possible to overcome it, and you should feel able to reach out, and receive, help and support.

Getting Better

Recovering from self-harm can be very tough going, especially in the early days. But there are many techniques that you can use to help yourself get better, and there are also many support services you can use.

If you are self-harming, or are worried about self-harming, talking to your GP is a good place to start. They will be able to link you up with the best support services available in your local area. Other things you can do include:


  • Reaching out for support from your family, friends, teachers, lecturers or anyone else you trust. You may be surprised by how sympathetic most people will be.
  • Recognising the symptoms that occur just before you get the urge to self-harm. Doing this can help you take steps to reduce your self-harm.
  • Using support services, such as therapists, psychoanalysts, Mind and helplines.
  • Learning what your triggers are. Triggers give you the urge to hurt yourself, and can be anything from people, to situations, to specific thoughts or feelings.
  • Accepting your feelings, and not being ashamed of them. Trying mindfulness techniques can help you with this.
  • Recreating the endorphin rush that self-harm causes by trying new activities, such as rock climbing. Or, for the more sedate among us, something less risky, such as arts and crafts.
  • Identifying distraction techniques. Distracting yourself from the urge to self-harm is a way of giving yourself more breathing space, and reducing the intensity of the urge.

You can read more detailed information on helping yourself in the short term, helping yourself longer-term, and seeking treatment and support on the Mind website.

The road to recovery from self-harm may be bumpy, and it’s not unusual to experience relapses back into harmful behaviour. However, it’s important to remember that if you do find yourself turning back to self-harm, you are not necessarily back at square one. You already know it’s an issue, and you’re working on it. Just make sure to keep any injuries clean, and see a doctor if you think you may have an infection. You can find clear and comprehensive advice on Lifesigns for administering first aid to self-harm injuries.


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