Self-harm

The internet can be a way to understand your mental health condition or treatment, connect with other people or access therapy. Being online can let you explore things at your own pace, at a time that suits you and with total anonymity if that’s important to you.

It’s also important to get a balance between being online and offline. Make sure you have regular time to go outside, read a book or visit a friend, for example. If you feel like being online is making you feel worse, take a break or find offline mental health support instead.

There are lots of different ways to find support online. This page looks at:

  • online information
  • online one-to-one support
  • online communities
  • smartphone apps
  • online self-help programs
  • online therapy

Online information

Perhaps the simplest way to get help online is by visiting trustworthy websites to find out more about mental health problems, symptoms and treatment options.

Use reliable, evidence-based sources such as our A-Z pages or the NHS Every Mind Matters website. Have a look at the links on our ‘getting help with your mental health’ page or ask your GP for recommendations.

You may also find podcasts and videos helpful. The NHS has some mental wellbeing audio guides and Mind has a YouTube channel, for example.

Online one-to-one support

Sometimes it can feel easier to talk about what’s on your mind through an online chat rather than on the phone or face-to-face. The organisations listed below let you have an online conversation with a trained volunteer or counsellor in real time.

  • If you’re a young person, you can contact Childline (for people under 18) or The Mix (for people under 25).
  • If you’re LGBTQIA+, contact Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline to talk to an LGBTQIA+ volunteer. If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you can use Galop’s webchat service.
  • If you’re affected by an eating disorder, you can talk to a Beat advisor.
  • CALM offers a webchat service for anyone feeling down who needs to talk.
  • My Black Dog is a peer support chat service for people with mental health difficulties.

Online communities

Posting on online forums can connect you to support and advice from other people who understand what you’re going through. You could join:

All these forums are moderated, meaning a team will check all posts to keep the community safe and stop harmful messages being shared.

Smartphone apps

If you have a smartphone, apps can help you manage your mental health. They can provide information, tips, games, exercises and self-help, for example.

You can download apps from app stores such as the Apple App Store and Google Play. Make sure the app is genuine and secure, especially before entering any personal information or paying to use it. Check the reviews in the app store: a real app will likely have hundreds of positive reviews.

Online self-help programs

If you talk to your doctor about your mental health or self-refer for talking therapy, you may be offered an online self-help course. These courses often use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

It can be convenient way to have therapy if you don’t have a lot of time, can’t access face-to-face therapy, or want help that’s totally anonymous. It can also be a good way to try out CBT and see if it’s right for you. However if you don’t have a lot of energy or motivation, it might not be what you need.

Some areas offer guided self-help, where you go through the course with some telephone or email support from a therapist.

Online therapy

Online therapy is a chance to talk to a counsellor online via a video call. It’s also known as e-therapy, internet counselling or remote counselling. Sessions work in the normal way except instead of going to a counselling room, you see your counsellor via your laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

If you want online therapy, talk to your GP or self-refer to your local psychological therapies service to see if it’s available on the NHS. You can also find private therapists who offer an online service.

Is online support right for me?

Some reasons why online mental health support might be right for you include:

  • lack of time – websites and apps are always available, meaning you can get help as and when you have time. Online therapy means you don’t have to spend time travelling to see a counsellor or worrying about traffic or train cancellations
  • physical barriers – if you’re disabled or live somewhere remote, it might be difficult or impossible to access face-to-face services
  • social anxiety or agoraphobia – if you feel too anxious to leave your home or spend time in a new environment, you might feel more comfortable talking to someone from home
  • feeling shy, or worrying about being judged – even though more and more of us are getting help with our mental health, there can still be a stigma about it. Getting help online can feel more discreet and confidential.

You can also use some types of online support – such as message boards or self-help programs – if you’re on a waiting list for talking therapy.

There are also reasons why online support might not be right for you. For example:

  • unreliable technology – if your wifi isn’t reliable or your laptop frequently crashes, your online chats or therapy sessions may be interrupted
  • no confidential space at home – worrying about being overheard or interrupted may prevent you speaking openly to a counsellor
  • not always suitable – online support isn’t right for everyone. For example, some people find online communities lonely as they don’t get the same kind of connection they do offline; online counselling isn’t always suitable for more complex mental health conditions.

Remember there are lots of ways to get support offline, whether that’s talking to a friend, speaking to your This section mentions how people can hurt themselves. It can be upsetting or triggering to read about how people self-harm, so skip this section if you need to.

What is self-harm?

There are lots of different ways people can hurt themselves. This can include cutting, burning or scratching your skin or taking an overdose. Self-harm isn’t always obvious, and can include things you might not think of as self-harm such as over-exercising, misusing drugs or alcohol, not eating, getting into fights or having unsafe sex.

Anyone can self-harm, but it’s more common in:

Why do people self-harm?

There are many reasons why you may self-harm. It may be how you try to deal with a stressful or upsetting situation that’s happening now or that you experienced in the past. Or you might not be sure why you hurt yourself. Whatever your reasons, there is help available.

You may hurt yourself if you’re overwhelmed by difficult feelings such as sadness, guilt or hopelessness. Self-harm may be a way to express these feelings, especially if you find it hard to put them into words. The physical pain can also be a distraction from the emotional pain you’re in.

You may self-harm to try to feel in control of your body, especially if you dissociate (feel detached from yourself and your environment).

Some people hurt themselves because they feel they need to punish themselves for not being ‘good enough’.

There can be a link between suicidal thoughts and self-harm, but most people who hurt themselves don’t want to die. Some people describe self-harm as a way of staying alive and managing severe emotional distress.

Self-harm can bring a sense of temporary relief. But the underlying issues won’t have gone away, and when your feelings build up you may feel like you have to hurt yourself again. It can be hard to break out of this cycle but it’s possible to find other ways to cope.

Getting support

It can be difficult to open up about self-harm. It’s understandable that you might worry about being judged or not understood. Remember that your doctor or any other health professional should treat you in a sensitive and non-judgemental way. They should talk to you about all your options so you can find the help that’s right for you.

If you’ve hurt yourself badly or worried you might act on suicidal thoughts, go to A&E or call 999. Our page on crisis care has more information.

If you want to reduce or stop your self-harm, start by talking to your doctor. They may suggest:

  • talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT). Your counsellor may help you find different ways to cope with overwhelming or painful thoughts and feelings.
  • medication for depression, anxiety or any other mental health condition you’ve been diagnosed with
  • advice and treatment for minor injuries
  • an assessment with your local community mental health team (CMHT) to help you find the right support

If your doctor is worried you need treatment for your injuries or that your self-harm risks your life, they may suggest a hospital stay.

You can also try joining a support group. Self-injury Support has a list of groups across the country. Our page on peer support has more information on how groups can help and what to expect.

Ways you can look after yourself

Letting go of self-harm can feel like a big decision. Perhaps it’s how you’ve coped with difficult feelings for a long time, and you’re worried how you’ll manage without it. Understanding why you hurt yourself and how self-harm makes you feel can help you make changes and find different ways to cope.

If you want to stop or reduce your self-harm, there are ways you can help yourself.

  • Work out what leads to you hurting yourself. This could be a feeling, memory, person or place, for example. Recognising what gives you the urge to self-harm can help you take steps to reduce or stop it.
  • Try waiting before you self-harm. The urge to hurt yourself may pass over time.
  • Distract yourself from the urge to self-harm. Different distractions work for different people, but you could try exercising, going for a walk, listening to music, writing down how you feel or having a bath, for example.
  • Download the NHS distrACT app. This has information and advice about self-harm.
  • Talk to someone you trust about how you feel. This could be a friend, relative or counsellor. Or call a helpline such as Samaritans or Self-injury Support (women and girls only).
  • We have a guide about self-harm that you can download or order.

If you’re not ready to stop self-harming, there are ways to reduce the risks and lower the physical damage. Rethink has suggestions on ways to self-harm more safely.

How to help someone who self harms

It can be shocking and upsetting to find out someone you’re close to self harms. It can be difficult to know what to do or say. Try not to panic or get upset. The calmer you can be, the more likely it is your friend will be able to open up to you in future.

If your friend wants to talk to you about their self-harm, listen to them without judgement. Offer to help them find support, but remember that they’re in control of their decisions. Don’t try to force them to stop self-harming if they’re not ready to. Don't ignore their injuries or focus on them too much: for example, don't ask to see their injuries if they don't want to show you.

Remember to take care of yourself too. Contact some of the organisations listed below if you need support.

Mind has more tips on supporting someone who self-harms.

Further information and resources

Alumina (previously Self Harm UK) is a free online self-harm support group for young people aged 14-19.

Harmless supports people who self-harm and their families and friends.

LifeSIGNS provides information and support to people who are ready to find new ways to cope other than self-harm.

Self Injury Support offers information and support to women and girls affected by self-harm.

Young Minds has information and signposting for young people who self-harm.

Zest provides counselling, support and information to people in Northern Ireland who self-harm.

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* Last updated: 15 February 2022