Self Harm or Self Injury occurs when a person deliberately inflicts physical harm on themselves. Cutting, burning, biting, punching objects or oneself, pulling out hair or skin, severely scratching skin or poisoning are just some forms of self harm. It's most often used to cope with pain in the person’s life and can be a temporary activity, a reaction to a particular stress. But it can also be prolonged, becoming a compulsion over an extended period of time.
Why do people Self-Harm?
Self harm is not necessarily a suicide attempt and engaging in self-harm does not automatically mean that the person wishes to die. Many people who self-harm also have suicidal thoughts, but most feel there is a difference between suicidal acts
and acts of self-harm e.g.
“I didn’t want to kill myself, I just needed to get rid of terrible feelings”
For some people, self-harm is part of their everyday life. It may involve a lot of ritual. Some may feel addicted to this behaviour. For others, it’s very occasional, done only when under particular stress.
Everyone’s experience is unique. And although there are many reasons why people choose to self-harm, often it is used to manage moods or feelings, to fit in with negative beliefs or thoughts. The person self-harms as a way to cope with the pain or strong feelings associated with negative experiences or situations. They have the urge to hurt themselves as a way of controlling this feeling of pain.
There can be all sorts of reasons that lead a person to self-harm. It could be financial, relationship, sexual identity or family problems, bereavement or reaction to another traumatic event, school or peer groups. It may be a reaction to bullying, abuse, serious illness or disability or anything that affects self-esteem. It can start in early adolescence when emotions are heightened, but it can also start later in life. It can be related to depression, low self-esteem or self-hatred and is often associated with a sense of guilt or a tendency to isolate oneself from others.
Although it's a very private, often secretive behaviour, it can also be a means to communicate. In our Self Help Guide to Self-Harm, we explore this in more details but some common reasons for self-harming are to:
- Manage or escape from difficult or hidden feelings
- Relieve pent up tensions, pressure or anger
- Feel something
- Feel in control
- Bring an immediate but temporary sense of relief
- Punish yourself because you feel bad, worthless, guilty or to punish others
- Cope with others expectations
- To prevent suicidal impulses
- To feel part of a group or have an identity
- Communicate a need for support and let others know how bad things are
Need Help? For yourself or for another person?
Self harm is more common than you might think and there are steps to take to manage self-harm, to learn distractions and alternative coping methods. Follow the links below to Get Help if you're self-harming, to Give Help if you are concerned for someone else or to access supports.
3Ts Video Library
Our 3Ts video library contains a series of short videos which aim to provide practical help on a broad range of mental health issues, from stress and anxiety to self-harm, depression and more. We've handpicked a small selection that are particularly relevant for if you self harm yourself or are concerned for someone else. The videos aim to help understand and demystify self-harm. Understanding is the first step. Check out other titles in our 3Ts Video Library here.
Self Harm: a pyschotherapist explains
Understanding Self Harm: who, why & what?
Self Harm: How to Get Help
Self Harm: How to Help Someone
Access Support Services
We should never be afraid to ask for the help that we deserve. Reach out to someone you trust or consider calling a helpline if you feel in crisis Talking through concerns with someone who understands can be very reassuring and can help in learning new coping skills. It’s good to know you’re not alone and that other people have felt the same as you do but have got through it.
Some key support services for self-harm are below and a full list of Specialist Support services can be accessed here.
Text 50808 provides anonymous crisis support by text to both adults and teenagers. Free 24/7 support is available for anyone in crisis who prefers to text rather than phone a helpline.
- Free Text Service: Text 3TS to 50808 to begin your conversation (24/7)
- Website: www.text50808.ie
Free 24 Hour Support service with therapeutic approach for people in suicidal distress, who engage in self-harm, are particularly low or who are bereaved by suicide. See website for branches.
- Freephone 24 hour Helpline: 1800 247 247
- Text HELP to 51444
- Call to book a therapy appoinment: 0818 111 126
- Web: pieta.ie
If you need help understanding self-harm, the Battle Scars Website is a very useful place to start. This UK based survivor-led charity provides peer to peer support and training in all areas related to self-harm. However, regardless of where you are, their website is filled with useful insights and practical information, along with a number of online resources such as literature, self-help tools and tools to be used when working with people who self-harm. Battle Scars started as a community group and their Facebook Page @battlescarsselfharm is a moderated support group open also to those outside of the UK. Excellent resource for anyone concerned about self-harm.
BeLonG To provides support and information for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans (LGBTI+) young people in Ireland through a number of support services. If you are LGBTI+ and have questions, worries, or just need to have a chat in a safe space, BeLonG To can provide you with information, support, and a listening ear. BeLonG To support youth groups around the country where you can be yourself, meet new people and seek help. Monday Chats are a free service for 14-23 year-olds between 3-7pm. Book an appointment via the email or telephone number below.
Providing fast and easy access to counselling and psychotherapyface to face and online. MyMind work to deliver affordable counselling with a sliding pay scale according to client. Also, for those directly affected by Covid-19, MyMind are now also delivering FREE online counselling appointments all over Ireland. For more information CLICK HERE .
Longstanding & trusted, Samaritans volunteers provide confidential support, befriending and listening to those in personal crisis, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 21 branches across Ireland. Also provide a Self-Help App. to keep track of feelings, get coping recommendations & to stay safe in a crisis.
SHINE works with individuals & family members of those with mental health difficulties. They aim to raise awareness and provide information, education, counselling & support groups. Services include groups for people with lived experience of a mental health difficulty, family & supporters groups, recovery training and education groups. Find your local Shine service here.Helpline: 1890 621 631
Available 7 days a week, 365 days a year, the Switchboard provides support and resources to all areas of the LGBTQIA community and to their families, friends and allies. Services include confidential helpline, married men's group and parents support service. A Drop-In Service is available weekly for sexual health information & support. Email for support or even to volunteer.
- Helpline (weekdays): +353 1 8721055 Mon-Fri 6:30 - 9pm
- Helpline (Sat/Sun & bank holidays): +353 1 5253113 4pm - 6pm
- Drop-in: Saturdays 2-4pm in Outhouse, 105 Capel St, Dublin 1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Talk to Tom provides a range of suicide prevention services both nationally and in their local community of Gorey. Services include counselling, child & adolescent services, bereavement support and community outreach programmes. Their counselling service offers one to one, group and family counselling & therapy sessions.
- Helpline: (0818) 30 30 61
- Email: email@example.com
- Web: talktotom.ie
Online mental health community providing support groups, peer support and one to one online counselling. Turn2me provide 6 free counselling sessions to anyone over 18 years living in Ireland. Website is a good resource of information on mental health issues. Contact: via form on the website