Coping with self-harm: a guide for parents and carers

White curve
Reasons for self-harm

Self-harm can serve a number of different functions, which vary from person to person.

Self-harm can be used as a way to:

  • manage extreme emotional upset
  • reduce feelings of tension
  • provide a distraction from emotional pain through experiencing physical pain
  • express emotions such as hurt, anger or frustration
  • temporarily escape from current difficulties
  • attempt to regain control over feelings or problems
  • punish themselves or others
  • elicit care from others
  • identify and bond with a peer group
  • attempt suicide

What makes a young person vulnerable?

At least 10% of adolescents report having self-harmed in some way. Young people may experience challenges during their formative years, and a number of factors can make them especially vulnerable to self-harm.

Individual factors

The early and teenage years can be both challenging and isolating for young people.

Individual factors which increase the vulnerability to self-harm can include: depression, anxiety, low-self-esteem, hopelessness, poor problem-solving, impulsivity, eating disorders, drug or alcohol abuse and bullying (e.g. because of race, sexuality or other issues).

Family factors

Family life can make a substantial difference to a young person’s mental wellbeing.

Family factors which increase the vulnerability to self-harm can include: mental health difficulties in the family, poor parental relationships, drug/alcohol misuse in the family, unreasonable expectations, conflict between the young person and parents, excessive punishments or restrictions and a family history of self-harm, abuse or neglect.

Social factors

The social setting and environment that a young person occupies can have a strong influence on their well-being.

Social factors which can make a young person more vulnerable to self-harm include: difficulties in peer relationships, bullying, peer rejection, abuse, availability of methods of self-harm, friends who self-harm and media and internet influences.

Possible future problems

Self-harm can be a serious problem - and repeated self-harm is common following a first episode.

Depending on the method, self-harm has the potential to lead to serious physical damage, such as permanent scarring and the medical effects of a dangerous overdose.

Self-harm may be linked to other problems including: depression, anxiety eating disorders or drug and alcohol use, for which specific treatment may be required. Individuals who have self-harmed are at higher risk of suicide than other young people, although the risk is still low.

For these reasons, it is important to tackle self-harming behaviour as early as possible.

Don’t ever be ashamed of talking about self-harm... I guarantee there are 50 other people in the same boat.

HealthTalk.org parent interview

If you’re hurting so badly in your head, to harm yourself on your skin … stops the feelings in your head.

HealthTalk.org parent interview

 

 

Managing injuries from self-harm >

This content has been adapted from “Coping with self-harm, a Guide for Parents and Carers, produced by University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research in association with:

Young Minds

Royal College of Nursing

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Royal College of General Practitioners

and funded by the National Institute for Health Research

Resources

Resource

An emotionally healthy approach to GCSEs - A guide for parents

Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

View resource
Resource

An emotionally healthy approach to GCSEs - A guide for teachers

Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

View resource
Resource

Asking for help (adult)

When it’s time to talk about your mental health.

View resource
Resource

Asking for help (young person)

A simple guide for young people to help talk about their feelings.

View resource
Resource

Depression booklet

Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depression

View resource
Resource

Guide to depression for parents and carers

This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

View resource
Resource

Guide to depression for parents and carers (Welsh)

This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

View resource
Resource

Looking after yourself during your GCSEs - A guide for pupils

Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

View resource
Resource

Low mood poster

Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.

View resource
Resource

Making the move to university: care leavers

Read how to look after your mental health if you are starting university after being in care.

View resource
Resource

Making the move to university: international students

Moving to university is especially tough for those who are coming from another country. Don't forget to make sure you prioritise your mental health, and read how to do so here.

View resource
Resource

Making the move to university: LGBTQ+ students

Read our resource on how you can best take care of your mental health when making the transition to university if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

View resource
Resource

Making the move to university: not fitting in

Read our guide on how to protect your wellbeing if you are starting university and feel like you may not fit in in any way.

View resource
Resource

Making the move to university: students with adverse childhood experiences

Resource for those starting university who have had adverse childhood experiences such as trauma or abuse.

View resource
Resource

Making the move to university: young carers

Read how to access support and prioritise your mental health while transitioning to university as a young carer.

View resource
Resource

Perfectionism

Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.

View resource
Resource

Supporting a child with anxiety

A guide for parents and carers to help understand anxiety more clearly and begin to address it.

View resource
Resource

Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

View resource
Resource

Wellbeing Action Plan (child)

A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult times

View resource
Resource

Wellbeing Journal

A simple, journal to help young people think about and write down the things which make them feel good.

View resource

Was this article helpful?

Your feedback helps us create better content so if this article helped, please leave a like below and let others know.
Follow us
The Charlie Waller Trust
Queens Voluntary Service Award