Self-Harm: Information and Support

Find out more about what self-harm is and why you, or someone you know, may be experiencing this.

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Self-Harm: Information and Support
What is self-harm?

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is the process of harming yourself on purpose, and this can occur in many different ways.

When we are struggling with a problem and it becomes overwhelming, sometimes we hurt ourselves and this can be for a number of reasons. Self-harm can be linked to negative experiences, either past or present, but sometimes it’s unclear what has led to it.

A person may self-harm for a number of reasons, including:

  • To try and express or cope with emotional distress
  • As a way of feeling in control
  • To relieve overwhelming thoughts or feelings
  • As a form of punishment
  • As a cry for help
  • To stop feeling numb or disconnected
  • As a response to intrusive or suicidal thoughts

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is not exclusive to physical injury; self-harm can also involve deliberately entering into dangerous situations, over-exercising to the point of near, or actual injury, substance misuse, and a range of other behaviours where our physical or mental safety is put at risk.

Although self-harm might provide a sense of release in the short term, hurting ourselves can carry risks. Read on to learn more about alternative ways to manage distress, and find support and advice for yourself or someone else who is self-harming.

If you need emergency or immediate medical treatment, Get Help Now.

What is self-harm?


This section describes a number of self-harming behaviours. Reading information about how to self-harm can be distressing and potentially triggering. If you feel vulnerable or concerned for your wellbeing at this time, you may not want to read the following section. If so, please skip to the next section instead.

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What does 'self-harm' mean?

Everybody copes with distress in different ways, and to different degrees. If you or someone you know is self-harming, it might look like one or more of the following:

We all experience distress differently and have different methods of coping. Self-harm comes in many forms, and some people may use one form while others may hurt themselves in a variety of ways.


Self-harm can involve:

  • Cutting, burning, picking, scratching, or biting your skin
  • Hitting yourself (e.g. punching or slapping) or inanimate objects such as walls 
  • Taking poison or harmful substances
  • Misusing prescription or recreational drugs (including alcohol)
  • Doing something that puts you at risk of harm, for example deliberately provoking someone into fighting you or having unsafe sex
  • Doing something to an extreme level that puts you at risk of injury or harm (e.g. undereating or overeating, or exercising in an unsafe manner that risks injury to your body)
  • Inserting objects into your body

These are a few examples of how self-harming can be experienced, and this is not an exhaustive list. Scroll down for more information about coping with self-harm and where to find support for yourself or someone else.

While self-harm may be a coping mechanism to reduce suicidal ideation, self-harm can result in accidental death, and some people may self-harm because they are attempting to end their lives.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing suicidal thoughts and need urgent support, click 'Help Now' at the top of this page.

How can I help myself, or someone else, cope with self-harm?

Read on for information and advice if you, or someone you know, are struggling with self-harm, as well as where to find professional support.

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How can I help myself, or someone else, cope with self-harm?
Support for if you are currently self-harming

Support for if you are currently self-harming

If you are currently self-harming, or have recently self-harmed, it’s important to consider accessing support from a professional to ensure any immediate injuries are treated properly. You may be at risk of infection or other health complications if your injuries are left untreated. If you have life-threatening injuries, call 999 or go to your nearest A&E. 

Try to reach out to someone you can trust and feel comfortable starting a conversation about your feelings with. This could be a friend, a relative, a partner, or perhaps your GP. 

Talking about self-harm can be very difficult, and it’s OK if you’re not ready for this. Instead, you could talk about what problems you feel you are currently facing (e.g. feeling overwhelmed by your workload) and what you could do about them.

Scroll down for a range of services offering support and how to access them.

How to support someone who is self-harming

Finding out that someone you care about is self-harming can be difficult, regardless of whether they have told you directly or you have found out another way. It’s natural to feel strong emotions about this, or to feel to urge to make the person stop hurting themselves.

How you respond to the person’s disclosure of self-harm will have an impact on them, and it is important to allow space for the person’s needs. By allowing the person to feel listened to and understood, they are more likely to feel able to seek further support for their self-harming.

Remember: we all have the capacity to choose how we cope with our feelings, and we cannot force people to change even if we do not agree with their actions.

Here are a few ways to support someone who is self-harming:

  • Let them know you are there for them
  • Try to be empathetic and non-judgemental
  • Allow them to make their own decisions
  • Have open and honest conversations
  • Offer to help them find further support  

You can find more advice and support here.

How to support someone who is self-harming

Where to find support

If you need urgent help, please click here. Alternatively, you can seach for support in your local area here. We’ve listed some services below where you can access support, and you can scroll down to the next section for advice on how to cope with self-harm. 

24/7 helplines:

Samaritans - 116 123
Free, one-to-one support via phone, email, letter, or app. Available 24/7, 365 days a year. 

Mental Health Rapid Response Service (MHRRS) for Brighton and Hove - 0300 304 0078
Urgent response service for those who feel they are in a mental health crisis and are at immediate risk of harm to themselves or others. 

Sussex Mental Healthline - 0800 0309 500
Free support for those who may be in crisis, distressed, and in urgent need of help with their mental health. This service is also available if you are concerned for someone else's wellbeing.

Find other forms of support here: 

  • Preventing Suicide in Sussex - for those in crisis or concerned for someone else
  • Self-Injury Support - support for women and girls, resources and training for all 
  • National Self Harm Network - a supportive and dedicated forum for individuals who self-harm, as well as families and carers 
  • DistrACT - a free NHS app that provides easy, quick, and discreet information and advice about self-harm and suicidal thoughts

You are not alone...

If you are struggling with self-harm, it’s OK to feel this way and help is out there. Watch this video to learn more about what to expect when seeking professional mental health support, and how this can help. 

How can I manage my feelings safely?

Find tips and advice about understanding your experience, as well as alternative ways to express your feelings without harming yourself.

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How can I manage my feelings safely?
Reach out to someone

Reach out to someone

When we self-harm, for whatever reason, it’s common to experience feelings of guilt or shame about this, leading to the belief that we have nobody to turn to. However, you are not alone; support is available and you can get through this.

If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to someone close to you (e.g. a relative, friend, or partner), consider speaking to your GP or a counsellor.

If you’re unsure who to talk to, Samaritans offer a free support helpline – available 24/7 – where you can speak to someone about what you’re facing without judgement or pressure. You can speak to them over the phone, via letter or email, or by using their self-help app. Find more information here.

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Identify your triggers

While some people know why they are self-harming, others are unsure of what the reason could be. By noticing things in our day-to-day life that make us feel upset, frustrated, or lonely, this can help us understand what is triggering the urge to self-harm.

Triggers can be a number of things, such as a certain person, situations that we find ourselves in, sensations or objects, and particular thoughts or feelings.

It may be hard to identify a specific trigger at first, so try to think about physical sensations you may experience when you are having thoughts of self-harming. For example:

  • Increased heart rate or sense of your heart sinking
  • Feeling restless/as if something is building up within you
  • Re-occurring thoughts of hurting yourself or how you might do this
  • A strong sadness or anger that feels overwhelming
  • Feeling numb or experiencing a loss of senses  

Noticing these sensations and situations where they are occurring can help you to identify potential triggers, which can help to reduce self-harm. You could try keeping a note of what you experience to help you notice them again in future.

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Identify your triggers
Distract yourself or find an alternative

Distract yourself or find an alternative

When the urge to self-harm arises, it can be helpful to distract ourselves until the urge subsides. We all cope in different ways; some may find a method that works every time, while others may need a range of distraction strategies. It’s important to find what works for you, so having a few options to choose from can be helpful.

A few suggestions are:

  • Rubbing ice on the area you want to harm
  • Holding ice in your hands or running them under cold water
  • Writing or drawing on the area you want to harm
  • Pinging an elastic band or hair tie on your wrist
  • Hitting a soft object (e.g. a cushion or punch bag)
  • Tearing something up (e.g. a newspaper)
  • Screaming into a pillow or in a safe, empty space
  • Allowing yourself to cry
  • Going for a fast-paced walk or run
  • Clenching your muscles tightly then relaxing (repeat as needed)

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Distract yourself or find an alternative (continued)

The examples on the previous slide are just a few suggestions that may help to reduce self-harm urges in the short-term. You can find more advice for helping yourself in the long-term on the Mind website.

 It can be helpful to have a plan for what to do if you self-harm again. This can include the method(s) that you find effective for doing it safely (harm minimisation), as well as those you can speak to if it happens. You could write your plan down, or keep alternative items (e.g. a cushion or elastic band) in a safe place that you can access if you need.

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Understand your process

It can feel scary to let go of self-harm, especially if you have used it as a way to cope for a long time. By understanding more about what self-harm means to you and why you hurt yourself, this can help you develop understanding of your feelings and what alternatives will be helpful for you.

Consider the following questions:

  • How do you feel before and after you self-harm?
  • Can you remember the reason you started? If so, what was this?
  • What seems to trigger your urges to hurt yourself?
  • What do you get from self-harming? (e.g. relief)
  • What do you think will happen if you don’t self-harm?
  • Are there things you would miss about self-harm?

The more we learn about why we self-harm and what purpose it serves, the easier it will be to understand the underlying issues and what we need to cope with these. By working on those issues (e.g. through counselling), the urge to self-harm will reduce and safer alternatives will feel more effective.

Understand your process
Practise self-acceptance

Practise self-acceptance

It’s normal to have feelings of guilt or shame about self-harming, but it’s OK to feel how you are feeling. We can’t just snap our fingers and feel better instantly; things take time, and practising self-care can help us to acknowledge our feelings and boost our confidence.

Even if it’s hard to accept your feelings (for example, you may feel self-conscious about scars), recognising them rather than hiding them is an important step towards moving away from self-harm.

You can practise self-care in lots of different ways, such as:

  • Create a ‘Safe Box’ - this can contain things that bring you joy (e.g. a playlist of your favourite songs, or photos from a holiday with loved ones)
  • Practise kindness towards yourself – you could try writing down or saying out loud, something you appreciate about yourself each day, however big or small.
  • Keep to a routine – make sure you are regularly eating and drinking enough, keeping physically active, and getting enough sleep. These can all help to boost your mood and relieve stress.
  • Do things that you enjoy – spend time with loved ones, find a creative outlet, or give yourself space to have some quiet time.
Get Help

Get Help

Self-harming is often a sign that there are other mental health difficulties which can worsen over time if left untreated.

If you are worried about self-harming, whether for the first time, or again, it’s important to speak to your GP.

There are services that can help you, such as Samaritans, but it’s also a good idea to speak to someone you trust so that you have some support in your day to day life.

Click here to find support in your local area, or if you need urgent help, Get Help Now.

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