Self-harm & teenagers – it’s time to talk openly. You aren’t alone.

Self-harm is still a taboo in society and self-harmers and those close to them often keep silent out of shame and embarrassment. A recent study found that 1 in 5 teenagers say that they self-harm. You aren’t alone and it’s important to speak out and get support.

What is self-harm?

  • Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose.
  • Most commonly, this involves physically hurting the body by cutting and scratching.
  • There are other less obvious ways of self-harming, such as putting yourself in a dangerous situation or not looking after yourself, perhaps by over or under eating, exercising excessively, abusing alcohol/drugs, hitting walls, or getting into fights.

So why does someone self-harm?

  • There are many and varied reasons why someone chooses to harm themselves. It is often because it provides a physical demonstration of the emotional distress or pain that the individual is feeling, such as fear, anger, anxiety, sadness.
  • It can be a cry for help to show how much they are hurting inside, or the harming can relieve tension that has built up.
  • Others may harm themselves as a punishment for something they think they have done wrong, or for something bad that has happened to them.

Who self-harms?

  • People who self-harm, particularly teenagers, tend to do it in secret, and don’t tell anyone. This makes it difficult to say how many young people hurt themselves on purpose.
  • It is estimated that around 20% of teens harm, and come from a range of backgrounds, family situations and schools.
  • Girls are more likely to harm than boys, although boys may express their distress in other ways often through violence and aggression.

How can self-harming behaviour be helped?

  • In my work with teenagers who self-harm, we spend time understanding the behaviour, and looking at what lies behind it.
  • What triggers the self-harm? What thoughts and feelings are attached to it?
  • We’ll work on devising techniques to distract from the urge to harm, and on strategies to cope with the emotional distress.
  • We then work on the underlying problem – for example, it could be bullying at school or online, family breakdown, childhood abuse or low self-esteem.

I am in my teens and self-harm, what can I do?

  • Don’t feel alone. You are not the only harmer. There is lots of support out there.
  • Talk to someone you trust – your parents, a trusted teacher or your pastoral care teacher, school nurse, a friend.
  • Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about your behaviour – it is an expression of your emotional distress, and a way of coping with the way you feel.
  • See the links below for sources of more information and support.

My teenage daughter/son is self-harming, what can I do?

  • If your teenage child is self-harming, don’t panic and don’t feel alone – it is more common than you think. Try to be sympathetic and not critical or angry even though you may feel bewildered and blame yourself.
  • It is important that you speak sensitively to your child and ask them about what is happening for them. They may be struggling with a family crisis, being bullied online or at school, or finding the pressures of being a teen too much.
  • Encourage them and help them to get support and help from a professionally qualified person. Your GP may refer you to CAMHS, or you could find a private counsellor.
  • Asking your child to stop the harming behaviour often won’t help and can increase the behaviour and/or force the child into greater levels of secrecy.
  • There is lots of support out there for you as a parent too. See the links below.

For more information and support for teens and parents:

  • Youngminds – a charity dedicated to improving the mental health of teenagers and young people. Website for teens and parents.
  • Childline – a private and confidential counselling service for young people up to the age of 19. Available 24/7
  • Parentline – a confidential helpline providing information and advice for anyone caring for or concerned about a child.
  • – dedicated to supporting young people impacted my self-harm
  • The Counselling Directory  – to find a local counsellor/psychotherapist
  • westend counselling  – providing confidential face-to-face counselling for teenagers & parents.
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