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Self-harm and suicidal thoughts

What is self-harm?

Self-harm, or self-injury, describes a wide range of things people deliberately do to themselves that appear to be harmful but usually do not kill them. Self-harm is not usually a failed attempt at suicide, but it can still be very hard for parents or carers.

Cutting the arms or the back of the legs with a razor or knife is the most common form of self harm, but self-harm can take many forms, including burning, biting, hitting or taking overdoses.

A young person may self-harm to help them cope with negative feelings, to feel more in control or to punish themselves. It can be a way of relieving overwhelming feelings that build up inside, when they feel isolated, angry, guilty or desperate.’

- Ask yourself "Do I feel angry/anxious/what about"
- Talk to someone about your feelings.
- Write a letter to someone you’re angry or hurt with, saying how you feel (no need to send it)
- Write a list of your achievements.
- Write a letter to yourself saying "I love me because…")

- Have a bath or shower.
- Have an emergency box with whatever helps you cope.
- Buy something special for yourself.
- Massage your hands/arms/feet, or the area you want to harm.
- Stroke a pet or cuddle a teddy.
- Paint your nails or get your hair done.
- Try relaxation, meditation or yoga.
- Ask someone you know well to hug you or hug yourself.

- Scream as loud as you can.
- Hit a cushion.
- Squeeze a stress ball.
- Squeeze ice really hard.
- Listen to music and dance energetically.
- Draw on the place you want to cut with red marker pen or fake blood.
- Write words on yourself with a red marker pen.
- Chew on ice cubes. Chew on raw ginger.
- Place an elastic band around your wrist and ping it when you have the urge to self harm.
- Spend some energy—go for a walk, run, walk, or bike ride.

- Keep a chart—add a star for each day/hour you have not self harmed.
- If you do self-harm, just leave a space and start again.

- Watch TV, a DVD or play a computer game
- Message or ring a friend.
- Meet up with a friend.
- Talk to someone about how you feel.
- Learn a new skill (juggling, loom bands, sewing, knitting).
- Look for pictures in the clouds.
- Tidy your room. Have a clear out.
- Help out with the household chores.
- Try baking a cake or cooking dinner.
- Think about what you’d like to change about your life and make a plan.
- Make a paper chain of the days its been since you’ve self-harmed and add a new link every day you don't self harm.

Because cutting and other means of self-harm tend to be taboo subjects, the people around you—and possibly even you—may harbor serious misconceptions about your motivations and state of mind. Don’t let these myths get in the way of getting help, or helping someone you care about.


People who self-harm are trying to get attention.


The truth is that people who self-harm generally do so in secret. They aren’t trying to manipulate others or draw attention to themselves. In fact, shame and fear can make it very difficult to come forward and ask for help.


If the wounds aren’t bad then it’s not that serious and there’s nothing to worry about.


The severity of a person’s wounds has very little to do with how much he or she may be suffering. Don’t assume that because the wounds or injuries are minor, there’s nothing to worry about.


People who self-injure are crazy and/or dangerous.


Self-harmers usually do not want to die. When they self-harm, they are not trying to kill themselves— they are trying to cope with their pain. In fact, self-harm may be a way of helping themselves go on living. However, in the long-term, people who self-harm have a much higher risk of suicide, which is why it’s so important to seek help.

Every child or young person is an individual and their experience of self-harm is going to be unique.  It’s important that we consider language that we use when talking about self-harm.

Resources produced or sourced by Newham's Mental Health School's Team:


Guide to Initiating Conversations around Self-harm here.

Mindfulness Safe Place guided imagery 

Mindfulness - leaves on a stream

Distress Tolerance using DBT 

Powering on with mindfulness

Managing Self-harm brochure 

Managing Self-harm: Guidance for schools incl. toolkit

For many months I struggled in silence, dealing with a combination of family and school issues as well as the way I viewed myself. I developed anxiety and began self harming as a result. I didn't know how to deal with my feelings, I began to worry about everything - no matter how small. Self harming was an escape and a way of dealing with the constant worry that was taking over my life. It got to a point where my self esteem and confidence was affected massively, and I couldn't understand why I was feeling the way I did.

When my school got involved and I was referred to CAMHS, my life changed forever.

I was so scared about getting help, I didn't know what to expect or how it would be. The idea of opening up to a stranger scared me and my anxiety was very high. However once I began therapy and got to know my therapist I was amazed at how easy it was to talk about everything - which is something I hadn't really done before. I would hide everything going on from the world, because I felt like no one would understand and I was too scared and ashamed to talk about it. Since then I have learned that so many people experience mental health problems and they are nothing to be ashamed about!

Throughout my two years in therapy, I learned how to cope with the anxiety and why/what caused it. Without CAMHS, I wouldn't be where I am today. Recovery isn't easy, and the first step is the hardest but once you begin your journey, it will get better. You don't have to struggle alone! After a long time, I'm happy to tell my story and I hope that it helps you. Please don't hide everything away from the fear of what people will think! You are not alone and you can get through this!

Key Point

When you feel the urge to self-harm, try putting it off for 5 minutes, then increase it to a 6 minute delay the next time, then 7 minutes etc.

Try putting the items you would self-harm with in a difficult to access  place or in a box with sellotape around it. It gives you time to think about self-harming.