Coping with self-harm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 HealthTalk.org 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.
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.
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.” - HealthTalk.org 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:
Royal College of Nursing
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Royal College of General Practitioners
and funded by the National Institute for Health Research
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