Self-harm

Self-harm is a way of dealing with feelings that provides immediate relief but can become a habit that is hard to break. There are alternatives to self-harm.

Self-harming is when someone causes themselves physical pain as a way of coping with emotional pain. People self-harm for a range of reasons: to seek relief from emotional pain, to release tension, to express emotion, to punish themselves, or to feel ‘real’. Self-harm is not usually a person's attempt to kill themselves.

Self-harm can include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Scratching or picking
  • Hitting
  • Poisoning
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Risk-taking behaviour.

Although self-harming may provide temporary relief from emotional pain, the long-term effects are often harmful to the person’s overall wellbeing:

  • Infection, scarring
  • Needing to cover up scars, or avoiding people or activities
  • Isolation
  • Shame and anger
  • Not learning other ways to deal with painful emotions.

What you can do if you are thinking of harming yourself

  • Change the environment you're in, go for a walk or do some other type of exercise.
  • Use alternatives to self-harm, e.g., put a rubber band around your wrist to flick when you need to, hold an ice cube tightly in your hand, draw on yourself with a red pen.
  • Seek out intense sensations that are not harmful, e.g., take a cold shower, suck a lemon.
  • Use distraction when emotions become intense—think about things that bring you pleasure.
  • Use the 15 minute rule—delay acting on the urge to self-harm for 15 minutes when feelings become intense, then delay for another 15 minutes and so on until the urge passes.
  • Talk to someone you find supportive.
  • Call Youthline or the Mental Health line.
  • Many people who self-harm find certain times of the day more difficult—plan something to do or someone to talk to at these times.
  • Get some professional help from your GP or a counsellor.
  • Check out websites with helpful information about reducing self-harm.
  • If nothing is helping and you feel at imminent risk of harming yourself, call Crisis Resolution Services on 0800 745 477 (24 hour service).