Self-harm is when someone intentionally hurts or injures themselves. For some, self-harm can represent a way of coping with or expressing feelings and emotions that are overwhelming or overpowering.
Self-harm can refer to a range of behaviours and because of this, estimates of how common it is can vary. In 2014, 6.4% of English adults aged 16-74 reported having self-harmed at some point in their lives1.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm can refer to any behaviour where someone intentionally causes harm to themselves. It can be any behaviour, minor or high-risk, which causes injury or harm.
Why do people self-harm?
Self-harm behaviours may start as a way to relieve the pressure of distressing thoughts or feelings which are overwhelming2.
It is common to occasionally experience emotions that are overwhelming. During these times many people use strategies such as talking to friends and family to manage these feelings. However, for others, these feelings may build up and they may turn the pressure in on themselves and use their bodies to release feelings of anger, guilt, or hopelessness.
While the triggers or reasons behind self-harm will vary across individuals, some people say that difficulties at home, problems with friends or partners, bullying, mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, traumatic experiences, worries about money, and low self-esteem can all be contributing factors3,4.
While self-harm can affect people of any age and background, rates may be higher among particular groups such as: young women, those in receipt of benefits, people who are unemployed or economically inactive, and those who live on their own1.
Mental health problems may also be associated with self-harm behaviours. In 2017, 25.5% of 11 to 16-year olds in England who had a mental health problem said that they had self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point, compared to 3% of those without a mental health problem5. While self-harm has been linked to a higher risk of suicide, it is important to note that many people who self-harm do not want to end their lives1,2.
If you are worried about self-harm behaviour, or have thoughts about self-harming, it is important to speak with a GP or other health professional, who can help you find the support you need.
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-harm2.
Further information about the process of being assessed for, and receiving support for self-harm is available on the NHS Choices website.
Further Resources and Information
Date last Updated
This page was last updated on 01/02/2019
- McManus, S., Hassiotis, A., Jenkins, R., Dennis, M., Aznar, C., & Appleby, L. (2016). ‘Chapter 12: suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and self-harm,’ in McManus, S., Bebbington, P., Jenkins, R., Brugha, T. (eds) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital. Retrieved from: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/adu...
- NHS Choices. (2018). Health A-Z: Self-harm. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/self-harm/
- Mind. (2016). Why do people harm themselves? Retrieved from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-probl...
- Mental Health Foundation. (2016). The truth about self-harm: for young people and their friends and families. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/truth-about-self-harm
- NHS Digital. (2018). Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017: Summary of Key Findings. Retrieved from: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/F6/A5706C/MHCYP%202017%20Summary.pdf