Self-harm factsheet

Self-harming is inflicting harm on yourself that causes tissue damage or marks to your body. Cutting is the most common form of self-injury but scratching, biting, hair-pulling, burning and hitting are also other methods.

Self-harm factsheet

Other names

Self-mutilation, self-injury (SI), self-harm, cutting and burning

Why people self-harm

It may seem paradoxical to outsiders but self-harming is most commonly carried out as a mechanism for coping with emotional distress and pain. Some also use it to: deal with feelings of numbness, stop flashbacks, punish themselves or relieve tension.

Who self injures?

It can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or class although self-harming does tend to be more common amongst teenagers. Some research has shown this is because self-injuring works as a control mechanism for younger people.

Warning signs

• Unexplained cuts and bruises on the body • Wearing long sleeves and trousers, even in warm weather • Secrecy, such as keeping a specific drawer locked or hiding specific items • A breakdown in communication • Mood changes or mood swings • Changes in eating patterns • Changes in sleeping patterns • Changes in socialising patterns • Evidence of drug or medical paraphernalia • Evidence of carrying unnecessary sharp objects, matches or lighters • Loss of interest in favourite hobbies or sports


Although it may make friends and family more comfortable, forced stopping of self-harm is not necessarily a solution to the problem. The person must be taught coping mechanisms to replace the SI. Antidepressants might alleviate the root feelings that the patient is attempting to cope with. Once stable, therapeutic work with a counsellor to work through problems can be a huge help. Patient desire to cooperate and get well is the biggest factor in recovery.