Why people self-harm

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body.

Some of the reasons that people may self-harm include:

  • expressing or coping with emotional distress
  • trying to feel in control
  • a way of punishing themselves
  • relieving unbearable tension
  • a cry for help
  • a response to intrusive thoughts

Self-harm may be linked to bad experiences that are happening now, or in the past. But sometimes the reason is unknown.

The reasons can also change over time and will not be the same for everybody.


Common causes of emotional distress

Self-harm is most often described as a way to express or cope with emotional distress.

There are many possible causes of emotional distress. It's often a build-up of many smaller things that leads people to think about self-harm.

Some examples include:

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Self-harm and suicide

There is evidence of a clear link between suicide or suicidal thoughts and people who have previously self-harmed.

However, not everyone who self-harms wants to end their life. Some people describe their self-harm as a way of staying alive by responding to or coping with severe emotional distress.

It's important to find the right support or treatment to help deal with the underlying cause in a less harmful way.

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Further information and support

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