The back of a teenage girl sitting on a bench looking into the distance.

Self-harm occurs when someone deliberately inflicts harm on themselves, often as a way to deal with a painful or stressful situation.


Why might a person self-harm?

For some people self-harming is a way of expressing feelings they can’t seem to put into words. It distracts the person from the source of their emotional pain and gives a sense of relief.

Cutting, biting, poisoning, burning, punching or scratching until there’s blood are just a few forms of self-harm. It’s important to note that self-harm is not necessarily a suicide attempt, but it could be a sign that the person is feeling suicidal.

Afterwards, many people who self-harm feel better—at least for a while. But then the painful feelings return and the urge to hurt oneself creeps up again. 

“As counter-intuitive as it may sound to those on the outside, hurting yourself makes you feel better.”  


Emotional distress

The problem is that the relief which comes from self-harming doesn’t last very long. The initial sense of relief does not in itself solve the inherent cause for these negative feelings.

In fact, self-harm and cutting will only add to the emotional distress being felt in the long term. People who self-harm tend to keep this act a secret from others and this in itself can lead to feelings of shame and guilt.

So, when these feelings are added to the already underlying problem, the situation only becomes worse. A deepening reluctance to talk to family and loved ones can develop and this is, once again, counter intuitive to how the situation needs to be addressed. 

People who self-harm and try to keep it a secret from their friends and family often injure themselves in places that can be hidden easily by clothing.  


If you suspect that a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs: 


If you need to talk to someone, you can call Childline Listening 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 1800 66 66 66 or chat online at

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