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Self-harm

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:

  • About 1 in 10 young people will self harm
  • Each year self harm leads to 150,000 attendances at A&E  
  • Self harm varies by age and is more common in children with mental illness
  • Girls (6.5%) are more likely to report self-harm than boys (5%)  

Risk factors for self harm include:

  • Depression
  • Poverty
  • Parental criminality
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Being abused  

Supporting children and young people who self-harm includes:

  • Appropriate medical care
  • Prevention e,g. building resilience
  • Individual support and/or group counselling

(The mental health of children and young people in England. PHE, 2016). 

Local information and support

Wiltshire prevalence is broadly in line with previous national studies:

  • 18% of secondary school respondents and 26% of year 12/FE respondents reported that they had at some stage in their past self-harmed 

  • 10% of the secondary respondents and 12% of the year 12/FE sample reported that they self-harmed monthly or more frequently

  • A larger percentage of females’ self-harm monthly or more frequently in both school phases

  • A larger proportion of nearly all the identified vulnerable groups reported that they have self-harmed more often than the Wiltshire average

  • 1 in 4 respondents did not tell anyone about their self-harm

Wiltshire Children and Young People's Health and Wellbeing Survey (2017). Year 8, 10 & 12.

HarmLESS is a resource for those who have contact with young people who are self-harming. It is designed to help you talk about self-harm with a young person so that you can decide what support might be helpful.

Kooth provides free online counselling for secondary school pupils in Wiltshire.

School Health Nurses can also provide support.

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.

Youth Mental Health First Aid courses provide an introduction to self-harm for all those working with young people aged 8-18.