for better mental health

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.

This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

Why do people harm themselves?

There are no fixed rules about why people self-harm. It really can be very different for everyone.

For some people, self-harm is linked to specific experiences and is a way of dealing with something that's either happening at the moment or which happened in the past. For others, the reasons are less clear and can be harder to make sense of.

Sometimes you might not know why you hurt yourself. If you don’t understand the reasons for your self-harm, you are not alone and you can still get help.

"I started self-harming when I was 15 or 16. I can't remember why I decided to start, but that's what I did."

Any difficult experience can cause someone to self-harm. Common reasons include:

"Self-harm proved to me I was real, I was alive. At times it also silenced the chaos in my head, briefly pausing the repetitive flashbacks and body memories."

Some people self-harm particular areas of their body that are linked to an earlier trauma. For more information, see our information on trauma.

Some people find that certain actions, such as drinking alcohol or taking drugs, increase the likelihood of self-harm, or that self-harm is more likely to happen at certain times (at night, for example).

Sometimes people talk about self-harm as attention-seeking. If people make comments like this, it can leave you feeling judged and alone. In reality, a lot of people keep their self-harm private, and it can be painful to have your behaviour misunderstood in this way.

However, if you do self-harm as a way of bringing attention to yourself, remember that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be noticed and to have your distress acknowledged and taken seriously. You also deserve a sympathetic response from those around you, including medical professionals.

"I hated my body and blamed it for what I'd been through, so felt it needed punishing. Learning to accept and respect [my body] was key to overcoming self-harm."

Who self-harms?

People of all ages and backgrounds self-harm. There is no one typical person who hurts themselves.

While self-harm can affect anyone, difficult experiences that can result in self-harm relate more to some people than others. Exam stress, classroom bullying and peer pressure is something that affects young people, for example. Experiencing stigma and discrimination based on your sexual orientation or gender identity is more common for members of the LGBTIQ+ community. Money worries can create greater stress for those on a lower income. These specific pressures can lead to increased tension which may in turn make self-harm more likely.

This information was published in May 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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