Coping with self-harm

White curve
Coping with self-harm, guide for parents and carers

Self-harm is behaviour that is done deliberately to harm oneself. Varying from one young person to another, it can include: self-cutting, taking an overdose, hitting or bruising, intentionally taking too little or too much medication, burning, hanging or suffocation.

At least 10% of adolescents report having self-harmed in some way.

Although some young people who self-harm may be suicidal, self-harm is often used as a way of managing difficult emotions. However, self-harming can result in accidental death.

This guide has been developed from conversations with parents and carers of young people experiencing difficult times. It is aimed at helping parents, carers, other family members and friends cope when a young person is self-harming.

Is your child self-harming?

As a parent, you might suspect that your child is self-harming. If you are concerned in any way, lookout for a number of signs.

Understand what to look for


Reasons for self-harm

Self-harm can serve several different functions, from reducing tension to providing a form of escape. As a parent or carer, it helps to understand why your child may be self-harming - and to be aware of possible future problems.


Learn more about the reasons for self-harm


Managing injuries from self-harm

If you are concerned about a wound or other serious injuries, you should seek medical help. There are steps you can also take to manage overdoses, cuts and wounds, burns and scars.


Understand how to manage injuries from self-harm


What parents can do to help

There are practical ways that you can support your child: open conversations, shared activities and working together to handle strong emotions can make a big difference.


Learn how to help


When to seek further help

Self-harm can be a serious problem and may be linked to other problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or drug and alcohol use. If you are worried about your child’s health and wellbeing, you should seek further help. Support and guidance is available to you at this difficult time.


Understand when to seek further help


Tips for helping your child if they are self-harming

Don’t let self-harm become the focus of your relationship with your child. As a parent or carer, you can play a crucial reassuring role and help to identify the triggers and encourage practical strategies to manage the feelings in other ways.


Explore tips for helping your child


Speaking with other family members and friends

You and your child can think together about how much you want to tell other family members about the self-harm. Sharing the situation with others can be very helpful for all.


Learn why you should speak with others


Attending to your own needs

It is perfectly normal to experience strong emotions as a parent of a self-harming young person. It is important that you look after yourself as well as your child.

Visit for more information on the experiences of other parents and carers. This helpful website explores issues such as why young people self-harm, how they helped their young person, support and treatment, and what helped them cope.


Why you need to attend to your own needs


Resources and sources of help

It is important to remember that you are not alone in this situation. There are many sources of help available for both parents and carers and for young people.

This helpful website shares the experiences and personal stories of parents and other family members of young people who self-harm. It explores issues such as why young people self-harm, support and treatment and what helped them cope.


A mental health charity, leading the fight for a future where all young minds are supported and empowered, whatever the challenges.

Parents Helpline (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm, free for mobiles and landlines): 0808 802 5544


Samaritans offers listening and support to people and communities in times of need.
Available to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: call 116 123 for free.


A free, private and confidential service where young people can talk about anything.

Call 0800 11 11 for free.

Mind (over 18s only)

Mind provides support and advice to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. The charity campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393.


Improving the lives of people severely affected by mental illness through a network of local groups and services. Call the advice line on 0300 5000 927 (open from 9:30am - 4pm, Monday to Friday).


Established to respond to the needs of people at risk of self-harm and suicide.

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Helpful advice and information for parents and carers of self-harming young people.


You may also find it useful to read the book “The Parent’s Guide to Self-Harm” by Jane Smith, Oxford: Lion Hudson

“I see the future as like a contour map - she will continue to get better and she will have long periods where life is good.” - parent interview

This content has been adapted from Coping with self-harm, a Guide for Parents and Carers, produced by  University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research in association with:

Young Minds

Royal College of Nursing

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Royal College of General Practitioners

and funded by the National Institute for Health Research



Asking for help (adult)

When it’s time to talk about your mental health.

View resource

Asking for help (young person)

A simple guide for young people to help talk about their feelings.

View resource

Depression booklet

Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depression

View resource

Guide to depression for parents and carers

This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

View resource

Guide to depression for parents and carers (Welsh)

This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

View resource

Low mood poster

Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.

View resource

Making the move to university: care leavers

Read how to look after your mental health if you are starting university after being in care.

View resource

Making the move to university: international students

Moving to university is especially tough for those who are coming from another country. Don't forget to make sure you prioritise your mental health, and read how to do so here.

View resource

Making the move to university: LGBTQ+ students

Read our resource on how you can best take care of your mental health when making the transition to university if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

View resource

Making the move to university: not fitting in

Read our guide on how to protect your wellbeing if you are starting university and feel like you may not fit in in any way.

View resource

Making the move to university: students with adverse childhood experiences

Resource for those starting university who have had adverse childhood experiences such as trauma or abuse.

View resource

Making the move to university: young carers

Read how to access support and prioritise your mental health while transitioning to university as a young carer.

View resource


Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.

View resource

Supporting a child with anxiety

A guide for parents and carers to help understand anxiety more clearly and begin to address it.

View resource

Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

View resource

Wellbeing Action Plan (child)

A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult times

View resource

Wellbeing Journal

A simple, journal to help young people think about and write down the things which make them feel good.

View resource

Wellbeing Action Plan (adult)

A simple, resource to help adults support and maintain their wellbeing.

View resource

Was this article helpful?

Your feedback helps us create better content so if this article helped, please leave a like below and let others know.
Follow us
The Charlie Waller Trust
Queens Voluntary Service Award