Self harm

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is a way of expressing deep emotional feelings and it can be linked to other mental health conditions such as depression. Research has suggested that self-harm is most common among 15-19 year olds, and those suffering from anxiety and depression.

Forms of self-harm include:

  • cutting
  • burning
  • scratching
  • banging or hitting body parts
  • interfering with wound healing
  • hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
  • ingestion of toxic substances or objects
  • eating disorders
  • abusing alcohol or drugs.

People who self-harm often try to keep it a secret. For example, they may cover up their skin and avoid discussing the problem. The person who is self-harming may feel deep shame and guilt, or may feel confused and worried by their own behaviour.


Signs of self-harm can include:

  • unexplained cuts, bruises or burns
  • keeping fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
  • depression (low mood, tearfulness, lack of motivation)
  • changes in eating habits or secrecy about eating
  • any unusual weight loss or gain
  • low self-esteem
  • alcohol or drug misuse


Research indicates that many teenagers who self-harm are able to give up this behaviour as they learn to manage feelings in healthier ways, for example, by talking to others. However, some young people continue to self-harm into adulthood.

A person who is self-harming can benefit from seeing a mental health professional like a counsellor, psychiatrist or psychologist.

SLaM offers an intensive therapy programme focused on increasing understanding of self-harming behaviour, relationships and on developing the capacity to make healthy choices. The programme includes individual and group sessions and creative therapies. Family therapy is offered where appropriate.

In addition, all inpatients have a multidisciplinary assessment, care planning and regular physical health and medication reviews.

Search for self harm services using our clinical service finder.

Read AJ's story about experiencing self harm.


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