If you need help right now

If you feel like you are about to self-harm now, there are things you can do to help keep your mind off it. Watch the video about the TIPP technique – a simple technique you can use to help you in the moment.

If you are in an emergency or worried for your life you should call 999.

Try the TIPP technique

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when you hurt yourself on purpose as a way of dealing with painful or overwhelming feelings.

It can take lots of different forms. Sometimes it’s clear that something is a form of self-harm. But other times, you might find yourself doing harmful things and not think of it as ‘self-harm’.

Self-harm can look like:

  • cutting yourself
  • using drugs or alcohol to cope with your problems
  • not eating, over-eating, or forcing yourself to throw up
  • spending all your time on addictive behaviours like gaming, social media or gambling
  • over-exercising and/or exercising when you are injured
  • biting, hitting or burning yourself
  • hitting walls
  • getting into situations on purpose where you risk getting hurt, including fights or risky sexual behaviour
A person thinking, sat on the sofa.

Some people find that self-harm brings a sense of relief in the moment. Others might have feelings of guilt, shame or fear afterwards. Either way, it won’t fix your problems. And the next time difficult feelings start to build up, you might feel like you have to self-harm again. This can create a vicious cycle that’s hard to break out of. If this pattern continues, you might start to feel like self-harm is your only way of coping with these feelings, but it isn’t. With a bit of help, you can learn other ways of coping when everything feels too much.

People self-harm for many different reasons. Some people find it hard to explain why they do it, but often it’s a way for people to let out feelings that are hard to explain or control.
Lucas, 19

Why do I self-harm?

There are many reasons why you might self-harm and these reasons will be different for everyone. You might be dealing with lots of intense thoughts and feelings and hurting yourself might feel like the only way to let those feelings out. Or you might feel numb and want to hurt yourself so that you can feel something.

For some people, self-harm feels like a way to show the feelings they have inside on the outside. It can be a way of:

  • expressing a feeling that you find hard to say
  • reducing overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts
  • gaining a sense of control
  • punishing yourself for feelings or experiences
  • expressing suicidal feelings or thoughts

People often start self-harming due to something stressful or upsetting that’s going on in their life.

You might not always know the reason why you’re self-harming. If you’re unsure why, or don’t understand the reasons, you might feel confused and unsure what to do. But with a bit of help, you might be able to identify the triggers and find other ways of managing your feelings.

Who self-harms?

People of all ages and backgrounds self-harm. It can affect anyone. We don’t know why some people self-harm while others don’t. But we do know that difficult or traumatic experiences can make people more likely to self-harm. And some communities are more likely to go through these difficult experiences. For example, members of the LGBTQIA+ community may experience stigma and discrimination against their sexual orientation or gender identity. And young people of colour might experience racism. These types of pressures may make people more likely to self-harm.

If you’re self-harming because you’re being treated badly, know that you matter. You are worthy of respect and love exactly the way you are, and you deserve help.

Self-harm isn't attention seeking

Sometimes people make comments about self-harm being attention-seeking. Comments like this can be hurtful and make you feel judged, alone or misunderstood. Those who self-harm actually often keep this private. But, if you do self-harm as a way of bringing attention to yourself, remember that there is nothing wrong with wanting people to notice you more and wanting to have your feelings taken seriously. You deserve to feel loved and supported.

A girl wearing a backpack, denim jacket and hoodie stands in a park with her face turned away.
I was only 14 when I started to self-harm. I was never intending to hurt myself. I was doing it for the sense of relief it provided. I felt like the only way I could function and leave my room was if I had that release.

How can I stop self-harming?

Two boys sitting in the park with their arms around each other, smiling and looking at each other.

Ways to keep yourself safe now

Even if you want to stop self-harming, you might not feel able to stop straight away. Sometimes it can take time to find new ways to cope, and that’s normal.

If it feels impossible to stop self-harming right now, make sure you’re at least doing it as safely as possible. This means using sterile equipment, keeping your wounds clean, and avoiding mixing drugs and alcohol with other forms of self-harm. You can also call Samaritans at any time - whether you’re thinking about self-harm or have already harmed yourself.

If you are in an emergency or worried for your life you should call 999 or go to A&E.

Things you can do to help

There are also lots of things you can do in the moment to help you not self-harm.

When you feel the urge to self-harm building, you could try to:

  • go for a walk or do some gentle exercise
  • distract yourself by focusing on your breathing
  • text a friend and let them know you need them to help you take your mind off things
  • play music and sing or dance along
  • hold an ice cube
  • write down your thoughts
  • hit a cushion or pillow
  • tear up a magazine or newspaper
  • make a self-soothe box
  • go to a public place like a park or a café

These might sound strange and it’s normal to be sceptical about whether they’ll work. But they work for lots of young people and you have nothing to lose by giving them a try.

The TIPP technique

You might find the TIPP technique helps to stop your urge to self-harm.

This video explains how to use the TIPP technique to help you feel calmer.

  1. T - Temperature

    Try changing your body temperature by splashing your face with water or holding an ice cube.
  2. I - Intense exercise

    Try sprinting, cycling or doing a workout.
  3. P - Paced breathing

    Breathe in for six seconds, hold for seven, breathe out for eight, hold for four, and then start again.
  4. P – Progressive muscle relaxation

    Tense and relax your muscles in pairs, i.e. start with both your arms, then your legs etc.

Ways to keep yourself safe in the long term

Talking about self-harm can feel hard. It’s normal to worry about how people will react. But talking about what’s going on is an important part of getting help and feeling better.

Try talking to someone you feel comfortable and safe with, like a friend, family member, teacher, school counsellor/nurse, faith leader, youth worker or anyone else. Think about who you would feel most comfortable talking to and how - whether it’s face to face, over the phone, by text or email.

In some communities it can feel more difficult to reach out for help because of certain stigmas around mental health. If you try and the person you talk to doesn’t react the way you hoped, remember that this reaction is about them, not you. Don’t let their reaction discourage you from reaching out again.

If you don’t feel like you can speak to someone you know, remember that there are still lots of people who can help. Take a look at the list of organisations at the bottom of this page.

Read more in our guide to reaching out for help

Speaking to a professional about self-harm can feel scary. You might be worried that you’ll be misunderstood or judged. But there are lots of trained people that you can talk to who are used to talking about self-harm with young people.

It’s important to be honest with the GP about exactly what you’re doing and what your worries are. If you think any of your injuries are infected or need medical attention, let them know. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to go to your GP or hospital for this – they are there to help you get better and it’s not their job to judge you.

Your GP will listen and discuss the best options to support you. They might offer you an assessment with a local community mental health team. Or, if you’re under 18, they can refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for an assessment. These assessments are so they can help you to find the right treatment, like counselling or talking therapy. The types of talking therapy you might be offered include:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a type of therapy that focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and actions
  • dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) – a type of CBT adapted specifically for people who experience emotions very intensely
  • mentalisation-based therapy (MBT) – a type of therapy that focuses on helping you to make sense of your own and other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions
Find out more about counselling and therapy in our guide

Sometimes the first person you speak to won’t help, but that doesn’t make your feelings invalid. If you are finding it hard to get the right support from your GP, you may find it helpful to turn to other support, like your school nurse or a specialist organisation like Samaritans. For more tips and advice getting the right support from your GP, including information about your rights as a patient, read our guide on how to speak to your GP about mental health.

How to speak to your GP

Journaling can be a helpful way to let out your emotions. It can also help you recognise what’s bothering you and any patterns in what triggers you.

Take a few minutes every day to write down how you’re feeling. If you don’t like writing, try doodling, drawing or recording a voice note. Remember this is just a way to express yourself – there’s no right or wrong way to do this and nobody has to see it but you.

If you want to, you could show your journal to any mental health professionals who are supporting you, to help them understand what you are going through.

Sometimes just making small changes to your daily routine can help improve your mood. Consider trying some of these changes:

  • Make sure you get enough sleep and stay hydrated – staying physically healthy can help you to feel happier.
  • Take time out when you need to – this could be going for a walk, doing some drawing or relaxing however you like to.
  • Think of three things you are proud of each day – you could do this when you first wake up or just before you go to sleep.
  • Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend – think about the advice and support you would give someone else if you heard they were struggling.

The internet can be a helpful space for those who self-harm. It offers a lot of information, advice and support. Plus, you might find that it’s easier to speak openly about your feelings through social media, rather than face-to-face. But, there’s also a lot of upsetting content about self-harm on the internet that can make you feel worse. We also know that those who have friends that self-harm are more likely to self-harm themselves. Think about how your use of social media is affecting your mood and what content is best for you. Make sure to only follow accounts that make you feel positive and safe.

Read more about social media and mental health in our guide

Some people find it helpful to create a safety plan that they can use when the urge to self-harm is strong. This can include whatever you think would be helpful, but generally it includes ideas of what you can do to distract yourself, who you can speak to, and what else you can do to keep yourself safe. Papyrus have a useful guide to creating a safety plan, which might help if you’d like to create your own. Although the focus of their guide is for suicidal feelings, you can use it for self-harm as well.

See Papyrus' guide
Overall, the most important thing which I hope everyone knows is you don't have to go through this alone.
Lucas, 19

Recovery takes time

Stopping self-harming can be really tough.

There’s no quick fix and making changes can take a long time. It’s common to make progress and then slip back into old patterns again. If this happens, remember that you’re still making incredible progress and this is all part of your journey to recovery.

Parent sits with their arm around their child to reassure them.

Managing scars from self-harm

If you’ve self-harmed by cutting or wounding yourself in some way, you’re likely to have scars on your body. It’s normal to have lots of emotions and feelings associated with these scars, like guilt, regret or difficulties accepting your body image. This can be particularly tough if you’re experiencing stigma around your self-harm.

For advice on how to manage stigma around self-harm within your community, take a look at Louisa’s blog.

The validation of self-harm scars in the mental health community

If you’re really struggling with the scars left on your body, you might be able to find treatment that can help. You can find information about scar treatments on the NHS website. Scars will look different for everyone depending on skin tone, where the scar is and the type of wound that caused the scar, and this will lead to different treatment options. Not everyone will want to do this and that’s completely okay – it’s your body and you should only do what feels comfortable for you.

Read about scar treatments on the NHS website

Supporting a friend or family member who is self-harming

It can be really difficult if you know someone you care about is self-harming. It’s hard to see them hurting themself in that way, and you might not know what you can do to help. Just being there and letting them know they’re not alone can be helpful, but it’s also important to remember that you may not be able to help them on your own.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of self-harm

There are lots of different ways that someone might self-harm and this can make it difficult to spot the signs. Your friend or family member is likely to be in both physical and emotional pain during this time. Here are some signs to look out for.

If your friend or family member is self-harming by cutting or wounding themself, you might notice some physical signs, like:

  • keeping their body fully covered all the time, even when it is hot, like wearing long sleeves to conceal scars (this is only a sign of self-harm if they do not normally wear long sleeves or clothes that cover the whole body)
  • having cuts, bruises or burn marks on their body that are unexplained
  • unexplained scarring on their skin
  • unexplained blood stains on clothing or tissues
  • any signs that they are pulling out their hair, for example hair loss or large clumps of hair lying around

Self-harm takes lots of different forms, not just physically hurting yourself. So, it’s important to also be aware of the emotional signs, like:

  • becoming very withdrawn and talking less than usual to others
  • unusual changes in mood, such as feeling low, teary or demotivated
  • making suicidal comments e.g. talking about not wanting to go on
  • expressing feelings of self-blame, hopelessness or failure

If someone has self-harmed and needs medical attention, take them to A&E for help.

Approaching the conversation of self-harm

You’re probably experiencing lots of emotions yourself, like anger or sadness. But remember they’re probably feeling overwhelmed too. Bringing your own emotions to the conversation can make it harder for them, so try to approach the conversation with kindness and an open mind.

There’s a lot of stigma around self-harm which could be making your loved one feel ashamed. Avoid making comments about their actions being ‘attention-seeking’ and instead, try to ask them open questions about how they’re feeling. Simple questions like: ‘How are you feeling?’ or ‘What are you feeling?’ can help. Give them space and time to answer too so they don’t feel judged.

Caring relationships are key to helping people stop self-harming. Let them know what you love about them so they can focus on the positives.

Being there for someone in the long-term

Recovery can only happen when your loved one takes steps towards this for themself. You can’t force someone to get better. It’s hard to see someone you care about struggle, but letting them be in control of their decisions will support their recovery in the long term. But remember you should always get them medical attention if needed.

You may find it helpful to make a ‘safety plan’ together, so you can communicate with each other and keep them safe. Samaritans have advice on this and a safety plan template you can use.

Recovering from self-harm takes a long time and it’s not always a linear journey. It’s normal for there to be ups and downs. They’re unlikely to stop self-harming immediately or permanently. Reassure them that self-harming again is not a failure and that its okay to take time to get better.

Speaking to a GP about self-harm might be a scary thought for them, but it’s important that they get the right support. If they really don’t want to talk to a GP, there are also lots of charity services and helplines they can turn to.

Get help now

Remember, you are not alone. Here are some services who can help and support you without judgement.

  • Calm Harm

    A free app providing support and strategies to help you resist or manage the urge to self-harm.

    Can be downloaded from Google Play or App Store.

  • Tellmi

    Formerly known as MeeToo. A free app for teenagers (11+) providing resources and a fully-moderated community where you can share your problems, get support and help other people too.

    Can be downloaded from Google Play or App Store.

  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
  • Black Minds Matter

    Connects Black individuals and families with free professional mental health services across the UK.

    You can get in touch here.

Patient Information Forum Trusted Information Creator (PIF TICK) logo

This page was reviewed in June 2023.

It was co-created by young people with lived experience of self-harm.

We will next review the page in 2026.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If you are in crisis right now and want to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

All fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required to submit this form.
Please copy and paste the page link here.
Please do not include personal details. This is not a mental health support service and you will not receive a reply.

Please note:

This form is not a mental health support service. We cannot reply to this. If you are at risk of immediate harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E. If you are worried about your mental health, call: Childline (for under 19s) on 0800 11 11; or Samaritans on 116 123.

At YoungMinds we take your privacy seriously. If you’d like to read more about how we keep the information we collect safe, take a look at our privacy policy.