Information for children and young people
|Ward/service name||Hartlepool Psychology Team. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)|
|Address||Dover House 1-5 Lynn Street Hartlepool TS24 7JZ|
|To talk to someone about this information contact your care team||Tel: 0800 0516 171|
What is Self-harm?
Self-harm describes a wide range of actions that people do to themselves to inflict physical hurt or injury. Cutting is the most commonly known form, but self-harm can take many forms, including burning and biting.
Self-harming behaviour varies from person to person, it is a very different experience for each individual.
Definitions of Self-harm:
- Any behaviour where someone causes harm to themselves, usually as a way to help cope with difficult or distressing thoughts and feelings. (Mental Health Foundation 2016).
- A coping mechanism. An individual harms their physical self to deal with emotional pain, or to break feelings of numbness by arousing sensation. (Lifesigns.org.uk)
Signs of Self-harm
Self-harming behaviour varies significantly from person to person and some self-harm behaviours may be more subtle than others. Listed below are some signs that may indicate your child is engaging in self-harm behaviours, this includes:
- Unexplained injuries – cuts, burns, bite-marks.
- Keeping themselves covered at all times – wearing long sleeves in hot weather, avoiding changing in front of others.
- Sharp household items, plasters, bandages gone missing.
- Increased use of home first aid – unexplained smells of antiseptic.
- Low mood, depression or outbursts of anger.
- Socially with drawn – isolating themselves from friends and family.
- Expressions of self-blame, feelings of failure, uselessness or hopelessness.
It can be difficult to understand why your child may be self-harming. This is because self-harm is often the symptom of an underlying problem and each reason for self-harming will differ from person to person. Listed below are some common explanations of why young people may self-harm:
- To cope with negative feelings and experiences – for example, anxiety, low self-esteem, and shame.
- To feel in control of problems and emotions.
- As a form of self-punishment – feeling at blame for difficult experiences in their life.
- To relieve overwhelming feelings of frustration, tension and distress.
- A way of communicating feelings and emotions, bringing other people around them closer to gain help and support.
Self-harm serves a function. It is a learned way of coping in absence of more safe and helpful strategies to manage difficult emotions and experiences. This means it may be difficult to stop.
How can I help?
Discovering that your child is self-harming may have a big emotional impact on you. To effectively support your child it is important to manage your own emotions and ensure that you remain calm. Upon discovering self-harm, let your child know that you are there to support them and where appropriate, seek any necessary medical attention.
If you feel the injury does not warrant urgent medical attention, ensure injuries are cleaned and do not become infected. Keep the home environment as safe as possible by securing items that could be used as self-harm tools e.g., sharp objects, knives, razor blades, and medication.
Conversations about Self-harm
Try to avoid asking your child too many questions. You may have an urge to understand why, however, asking too many questions may overwhelm and distress them further.
Your child may not want to talk about their self-harm, however, it may help to let them know you are there to listen when they are ready.
What to do?
ASK – Would you like to talk about this with me? How can I help you? What responses do you find helpful? Is there another adult you feel comfortable talking about this with?
VALIDATE – let your child know that they can talk about their emotions without judgement. Share with them that their emotions and feelings are real and important
ACTIVE LISTENING – let your child know that they are being heard by making direct eye contact and stay focused. Sometimes sitting with silences can be difficult, however both you and your child may need time to understand your own thoughts and feelings
What to avoid:
- Dismissing their self-harm and avoiding talking about it.
- Asking for proof of self-harm.
- Being forceful if your child prefers not to discuss it with you – your child may find prefer to write a letter, draw an image to represent how they are feeling or discussing this with another trusted adult.
- Asking your child to promise to stop self-harming.
- Punishing them for self-harm.
Self-harm is used as a way to cope with difficult emotions. It may be helpful to explore different techniques your child could use to manage their feelings that are alternative to self-harm. Activities you could explore together include distraction and stress-management techniques:
- Social Activity/Interactions – video games, movies, watching TV.
- Exercise and activities.
- Mindful movement.
- Pamper/soothe: bath, nails, facemasks.
- Housework, cleaning, organising.
- Music, Art, Drama.
It may also be helpful to create your own self-soothe box and to consider using alternatives to self-harm.
A self soothe box is a collection of useful or meaningful items that are readily accessible for times of distress. It should include a variety of items in your box that offer comfort in times of distress or serve as prompts and reminders for activities to do.
Ideas: Photos, playdough, elastic bands, letters, hand lotion, bubbles, hand lotion, stress ball, perfume, fidget toys, essential oils. For further guidance, visit:
- Ripping up paper.
- Popping bubble wrap.
- Peeling off PVA glue from skin.
- Flicking an elastic band on wrist/legs.
Calm Harm – An app designed to help resist or manage the urge to self harm
Think Ninja – Provides skills and knowledge about mental health and emotional wellbeing
DistrACT app – Aims to help you understand self-harm urges
Online educational resources for adults and children. https://www.recoverycollegeonline.co.uk/
Online mental wellbeing community. Access free, safe and anonymous support.
The UK’s leading charity championing the wellbeing and mental health of young people.
https://www.nshn.co.uk National Self harm Network supports and provides information for individual who self-harm as well as family and carers.
L947, V4, 23/01/2022 (Archive: 22/01/2025)