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What is self-harm in children and young people?
Self-harm is when someone does something to intentionally hurt themselves.
Often a child or young person may self-harm to soothe deep sadness or express overwhelming emotions that they can’t communicate in words or clear thoughts.
They might self-harm if they are being bullied or feel helpless about something.
Self-harm behaviour in children and young people could include:
- repeated scab picking, scratching or burning the skin
- cutting parts of the body
- hitting oneself against objects
- taking a drug overdose
- swallowing substances or objects
- restricting food intake - see our advice page 'Eating Disorders in children and young people'
"You may experience shock, disbelief and confusion to find that your child is self-harming, along with a multitude of other feelings, but it is important that you stay calm, listen to your child, and support them to seek help."
Spotting the signs of self-harm in children and young people
Self-harm is more common amongst teenagers, but signs of self-harm are occurring in primary-school-aged children.
You may notice signs that they are:
- Being withdrawn, anxious or depressed
- Not wanting to wear clothes with short sleeves
- Unexplained cuts, scratches and bruises, and hair pulling.
Download our Zcard which was created with young people - I feel like hurting myself
Also see our leaflet - Self-harm, a guide for parents and carers
You can find further information on recognising the signs of self-harm in children from these websites:
MindEd for families - is a website that has guidance on a range of child related issues, which includes spotting the physical signs and behaviours of self-harm.
NHS Choices Website - has some useful information about the signs to look out for, and why people self harm.
Harmless UK website - are a voluntary organisation who support those who self-harm, their friends and family.
Why do young people self-harm?
To understand why a child or young person may be self-harming and how best to support them, it is important to know the four types of self-harm.
Self-harming to manage their feelings
They find it difficult to put their feelings into words.
The physical pain of it distracts them when they are in emotional pain.
For them self-harming helps them to release tension.
Self-harming to communicate
They hurt themself to show others how they feel.
This is NOT attention seeking, but to show that they are in need of support.
Self-harming to have control
They are self-harming as a way to help them stay in control of their day to day life.
Self-harming to punish themselves
Because of feelings or behaviours they think are their fault.
To punish themselves if they are feeling angry towards someone but they are unable to tell the person how they feel.
Because they feel hate towards themselves, which is a common reason why someone might self-harm.
Self-harm and suicide
People who self-harm don’t usually want to die.
They may be self-harming to help deal with life, rather than a way of trying to end it.
Self-harm can increase their risk of having suicidal thoughts or of suicide by accidental death., so for this reason all self-harm behaviour should be taken seriously.
The Young Minds Charity has this video from their website which talks about how parents should respond if they find out their child or young person is self-harming.
I think my child is self-harming, what should I do?
- Please be aware that self-harm is ‘not attention seeking’ so don't ignore it.
- Make an appointment at your GP surgery for advice and support.
- Make a referral or get advice from: Emotional Wellbeing Hub (if you're in East and Weast Suffolk) Or Just One Norfolk (if you live in Lowestoft and Waveney
- Young people can contact the ChatHealth Service - for confidential health advice from a school nurse.
- Young people can get online support from Kooth - a free and friendly online emotional wellbeing service and counselling website for 11-25 year olds.
For urgent mental health support call 111, option 2 NHS Mental Health Crisis Line (24/7 helpline for anyone of any age.) If life-threatening medical help is needed call 999.
Who else can I speak to for advice?
The NHS Choices website has an advice page on how to start a conversation with your child. Visit: NHS Website -Talking to children about their feelings page
The MindEd-for families website has a resourceful section for parent/carers about things to think about when talking to your child or teenager. Visit: www.MindEd Website - Tallking to My Child page
The Childline website - has lots of advice and information to help chidren and young people, including self-harm coping mechanisms. Visit www.childline.org.uk
The following step by step guide covers all the vital aspects about self-harm and when to seek help - 'Coping with self-harm - a guide for parents and carers’.
The YoungMinds Charity - has a good Self-harm booklet which is aimed at someone who is self-harming, titled 'Your guide to Self-Harm and getting the help you need'.
The Source for young people - is a local website for young people in Suffolk that covers various emotional wellbeing topics, including self-harm. Visit: www.thesource.me.uk/wellbeing.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists website - has a list of recommended mental health books for adults, children and teenagers that address a whole range of health and wellbeing issues. Visit: Royal College of Pschiatrists Website - Mental health books section
Suffolk Libraries - has a list of self-help books suitable for young people and parent/carers available to request. Visit: www.suffolklibraries.co.uk
Suffolk Parent Hub - has various book recommendations to help parent/carers support children with all sorts of issues. Visit: Suffolk Count Council Website - Parent Hub
Wellbeing Apps - For helpful Apps that can provide some in-hand support to a young person struggling with an emotional wellbeing issue, please see a list of recommended wellbeing Apps that have been reviewed by young people on The Source website. Visit:The Source - 'if the App fits' page
Self-harm Support Group Ipswich - for under 25s
When: The group is run weekly on Friday's, from 7pm until 8.30pm
Where: Teenage Mental Health based at 31 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AQ.
This is a free support group to allow you to talk to like minded people, and recieve support from therapists employed by Teenage Mental Health.
For more details call: 01473 411324 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also find more useful advice on their website TeenageMentalHealth.co.uk
To search for other emotional wellbeing support groups, see our list: local support services and organisations for self-harm (you can filter the list for what you need).