What is self-harm?

Self-harm is a maladaptive coping mechanism, where an individual will purposefully injure their body as a way of managing intense feelings and distressing thoughts and situations. 

The act of self-harm can take many forms including scratching, cutting and burning. Individuals engaging in self-harm may feel as though the act is the only thing that can distract them from the emotional pain they are experiencing. Alternatively, others who may be experiencing feelings of ’emptiness’ may harm themselves as a way of feeling something. 

Self-harm can also take the form of abusing alcohol or drugs, overeating or not eating enough and engaging in risky behaviours.

Self-harming will usually only offer individuals temporary relief, creating a destructive cycle of harming themselves routinely. 

If you have self-harming tendencies, it’s important you seek professional treatment to help overcome them.  If you find yourself in a crisis situation, you attend A&E or your local emergency services.

Signs and symptoms of self-harm

Individuals who self-harm may:

  • Have physical marks such as scars, cuts, burns or gashes on their body
  • Feel weak, shameful or disgusted 
  • Have anxiety or depression

Treatment for self-harm at Nightingale Hospital

Our approach to treating self-harm includes individualised programmes based on current clinical evidence. You may attend as an outpatient, day patient or inpatient.

Talking therapies

Counselling can help reach feelings, address past problems and help manage your feelings and problems in a different way in the future. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) takes a practical approach to look at what happens just before self-harm, encouraging one to keep a diary of self-harming episodes.

Tips for those who are self-harming

What to do to stop self-harming?

  • It may be useful to keep a daily diary of events and feelings and to record how you cope with or channel powerful emotions of anger, pain or happiness.
  • Keep notes of what is going on when you feel the need to harm yourself.
  • Try to talk about your feelings with someone supportive.
  • Have the telephone numbers of friends or helplines where you can find them easily, in case you need to talk to somebody in a crisis.

How to help someone who is self-harming

It’s important that you appreciate how difficult your friend or relative is finding life. Showing them you want to understand will matter a great deal. You can begin by gently encouraging your loved one to talk to someone about why they self-harm. If someone you love is self-harming, it can be very difficult to cope with your own feelings. Try to enlist the help of family, friends and professionals to support yourself.

Useful resources

“When you have a problem and you drink, take drugs or gamble, the problem won’t go away. Stay and tackle the problem”