What is self-harm?

Self-harm is a term used to refer to a range of behaviours and usually refers to someone deliberately hurting themself. Self-harm may be used as a coping mechanism to deal with emotional difficulties or difficult experiences. It is a sign of distress, and may also indicate that someone has a mental illness.

Some of the ways in which people self-harm can leave visible injuries such as cutting, burning or bruising. Self-harm can also include taking drugs or drinking alcohol to deliberately cause harm.

Anyone can self-harm and, although women are more likely to do so, this is also an issue for men. Information about the ways in which self–harm in young men and teenage boys may exhibit differently to women is available from selfharm UK.

 Some of the reasons for self-harm might include:

  • Dealing with strong emotions like anger or sadness
  • Punishing yourself for things you think you’ve done wrong
  • To make yourself feel normal
  • To distract yourself from feelings


Further information and advice 

  • The Mind website explains self-harm, including the possible causes and explains how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced information about self-harm which is aimed at people who are harming themselves, or who feel that they might.


Seeking help 

It is important to care for any injuries – do seek first aid or medical help if required. 

If you would like help to stop injuring yourself, you can talk to your doctor. You can also meet with one of Imperial’s student counsellors, who can help you explore the emotional distress attached to the behaviours. This can be useful in considering and developing coping strategies that are more constructive.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your experiences, a range of resources are available to help you to help yourself.


Supporting a friend who self-harms

You may know someone who self-harms, and it can be difficult to know how to deal with this.

It is important to recognise that not everyone who self-harms will feel ready to talk about their experience, or knows why it is they are self-harming. For these reasons, it is helpful to find out as much as you can about self-harm so that you can understand what the person is going through.

The following resources might be helpful:

  • The Mind website gives a good overview of what it is and isn’t helpful to do
  • Lifesigns publishes a range of information on supporting others