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Self-harm, as defined in the National Institute of Clinical Excellence guidelines (2004), is an “expression of personal distress, usually made in private, by an individual who hurts him or herself.” The nature and meaning of self-harm, however, varies greatly from person to person and the reason or trigger for each action may differ on each occasion. Essentially though, self-harm is any behaviour where the intent is to cause harm to oneself.

Self-harm is a relatively common problem that is frequently misunderstood and kept hidden. Therefore it is not surprising that myths and stereotypes have grown around the subject. Most commonly there is a belief that self-harm is an ‘attention seeking behaviour’. Given that most self-harm is carried out in private and over a long period before help is sought, it is hard to give credence to this perception. Another belief is that self-harm is something that groups of young people do together. Whilst it is important to be aware that within
friendship groups, some individuals may self-harm, it is rare that young people self-harm in front of others.

Key facts:

-    Average age to start self-harming is 13
-    Ratio of male : female self-harm is approximately 1:4 (Hawton et al, 2002)
-    10.6% of secondary school pupils self-harm (Office of National Stats 2000)
-     In England in 2009:
      310 male 15-24 year olds died as a consequence of intentional self-harm and an event of undetermined intent
      143 female 15-24 year olds died as a consequence of intentional self-harm and an event of undetermined intent

In 2013 Wiltshire Council produced Model guidance for schools responding to incidents of self-harm

For further information and guidance on this issue, NHS Wiltshire in partnership with Wiltshire Council have published Multi-agency guidelines for professionals working with young people who self-harm.

Virtual College has a free online course that provides information on how to sensitively talk to children about self-harm and tactics for increasing mental resilience.

Click here to access the course.