What is self-harm?

There are many definitions of self-harm but to put it simply, self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.

Why do people self-harm?

Some people have described self-harm as a way to:

  • express something that is hard to put into words
  • turn invisible thoughts or feelings into something visible
  • change emotional pain into physical pain
  • reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts
  • have a sense of being in control
  • escape traumatic memories
  • have something in life that they can rely on
  • punish yourself for your feelings and experiences
  • stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated 
  • create a reason to physically care for themselves
  • express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life.

If you want to learn more, have a look at these blogs written by people who have personal experience of self-harming. By writing about the issue they aim to help break down the stereotypes and stigmatising ideas that can be associated with self-harm.

Let’s debunk some myths

Which ones did you think were true?


  • Self-harm is an issue that all groups feel least comfortable approaching with young people
  • People who self-harm use it as a way to release pressure and feelings
  • People who self-harm typically hide it from others

Is it just attention seeking?

Many people who self-harm do not talk about it. In reality, they can feel embarrassed and alienated and often keep it a secret. For some, they may want others to know how much mental distress they are experiencing but self-harm should not be viewed as attention seeking behaviour.

Who does it affect?

Self-harm can affect anyone, at any age. However, most are between the ages of 11 and 25 with adolescent females being the highest in this group. 

How do I know if it is self-harm?

  • If you do something unhealthy or dangerous on a regular basis to distract yourself from the way you’re feeling
  • When it feels like a habit you can’t stop
  • If it feels like self-destruction is easier than tackling your issues
  • If you feel emotionally ‘numb’ and unhealthy behaviours help you to ‘feel’ something
  • When you feel stuck in your head and you regularly use unhealthy behaviour to break free from your thoughts
  • If you feel like you don’t deserve to be happy

Getting support for self-harming

It can be difficult to stop the cycle of self-harming but support is at hand. It is ok to feel nervous or scared to ask for help. Getting professional support is key to working through the patterns of self-harm. 

Next week, I will be talking about what signs to look out for and what interventions are available to support people who self-harm.