Self-harm

Explains self-harm, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

Your stories

My body comes with a trigger warning

Seaneen blogs about living with the scars of self-harm.

Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan
Posted on 23/09/2015

...but you look fine to me?

Susanna talks about the difficulties of coping with mental health problems you can see, and those you can't.

Susanna
Posted on 20/10/2014

How going to A&E helped me

Caroline blogs about how a visit to A&E helped her to realise she needed help.

Caroline
Posted on 27/11/2013

What support and treatment is available?

Sometimes outside support is needed to help you make positive changes. You may need to try a few different things to find what works for you, and combine self-help techniques with professional support:

Your right to help and support

It takes courage to ask for support. It is understandable that you may have concerns that you won't be understood or that you will be pressured to make changes faster than you want to. However, you have the right to receive support that is both empowering and respectful.

Any health professional – such as your GP or psychiatrist – should discuss all your options with you, and your views and preferences should be taken into account when making decisions about your treatment.

If you receive NHS treatment, it should be in line with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.

These say that:

  • Any health professionals should treat you in a way that is sensitive and non-judgemental.
  • Ideally, health professionals should be trained in communicating sensitively with people who self-harm, and be aware of potential stigma.
  • Any treatment you are given should be tailored to your individual needs.

Support options include:

GP

Often a first step to asking for help and discussing your self-harm confidentially.
  • Your GP may assess you and let you know about available treatment.
  • Can prescribe medication for anxiety or depression, or to help with sleeping.
  • Can refer to your CMHT (community mental health team) which can include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, an occupational therapist and community psychiatric nurse.
  • If they are concerned that your self-harm is a threat to your life, or if you need medical treatment for your injuries, they may suggest you spend time in hospital.
Talking treatments

Talking with a professional therapist trained to listen with empathy and acceptance.

See our pages on Talking treatments for more information.

Support groups

Regular meetings with others who have similar experiences to you.
  • Can be peer-led or facilitated.
  • May focus on specific issues or be more general.

See our Peer support section for more information. You can find out if there are local groups through Mind Infoline or Self-injury Support.

Online support

A support option if you don't feel ready to see someone face to face.
Treatment for scars
  • Some people feel that scars from self-harm are an important part of their journey, while others would prefer not to have them.
  • Treatments are available for covering and reducing scarring. For more information see the Lifesigns pages on scar reduction and skin camouflage.

Visiting the GP was the best thing I have ever done. It didn’t immediately get better, but that’s where my recovery began.

Things to consider when asking for help

Remember that whoever is supporting you is there to help you and listen to you. Sometimes a therapist or practitioner may ask you to commit to not self-harm during a course of treatment. It is important that you don't feel pressured into making decisions about this, and that anything you decide is realistic for you at the time.

It can be tempting to try to cover up the extent of your self-harm, or to lie about it altogether. While this is understandable, if you are able to share your experience it can make a big difference to how you feel. It can help to reduce feelings of shame and isolation, and will increase the chance of you receiving the support you need. It does take a lot of courage to reach out, and it might take more than one conversation to say everything that you'd like to say.

Even when I've had to go to A&E, I have lied and pretended my injuries were accidents – which in hindsight is silly as I could have received some emotional support, but I hold such deep shame.

If the person supporting you is not trained or experienced in self-harm, it might be useful to ask them to find out more – by reading these pages, for example, or by contacting an organisation for people who self-harm (Self-injury Support, Lifesigns and Harmless have helpful information resources).

It can also help if you write down all the things that you'd like to say to the person in advance. This will help you if you feel anxious about expressing your feelings or worried that you might be judged.

I have noticed in recent years that nurses and doctors in A&E are more understanding of self-harm, which is great.

If you are concerned about your treatment or care, or find it hard to access the support you need, it may be helpful to get an advocate to support you. This could be a friend, family member or professional. You can also contact PALS for information on making a complaint about NHS services if you need to.

I have received medical intervention for both deep wounds and overdoses and, although my treatment was pretty horrifying, it did save my life.


This information was published in October 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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