Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust: Healthcare from the heart of your community


Self-harm is a way you might find to cope with very difficult experiences and feelings.

It is a term used to describe a wide range of ways to hurt yourself.

These can include physical self-harm, emotional self-harm and putting yourself in risky situations.

Self-harm can be used for some people as a coping mechanism, a way to gain control, to express difficult feelings (including suicidal feelings) to others or as a reaction to a strong urge.

Why and how might people self-harm?

There is no one reason why people self-harm. However common causes can include:

Anger Fear or worry
Bereavement Depression
Sexual/physical/emotional abuse Low self-esteem
Relationship difficulties Work/school difficulties
Bullying Financial problems
Confusion about sexuality Mental health problems

For some people it can be linked to a specific situation or event, whereas for others it can be a way of dealing with something that happened in the past or something that is currently on-going.

People self-harm in different ways such as:

Cutting Burning
Scratching Poisoning
Over-dosing Hair-pulling
Hitting/punching Over and under-eating
Biting Abusing drugs and alcohol
Head-banging Inserting foreign objects into their body
Excessive exercise  

Additionally some self-harm can be emotional, such as denying yourself care and concern; or neglectful such as not attending to your physical health, personal hygiene or self-care.

After self-harming some people have described feeling better, a sense of relief, regained control or numbness/disconnection from the emotional pain.

However these are often short-term effects and alongside this, it can often bring up difficult emotions and make you feel worse.

For example, many people have described feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment which can result in self-harm being kept a secret from those around you.

Following self-harm, it is important for you to seek medical attention to have any physical injuries appropriately taken care of to prevent further complications.

How we can help:

If you would like to stop self-harming and would like support, we have a number of services which may be helpful for you.

Some people described reducing or stopping their self-harm as empowering, however it is important to be aware that if this has been your main way of coping, it may take some time to find a healthier way to manage your distress.

Our services can help you to understand patterns of self-harm and help you to make sense of your difficulties.

For example, you could learn to recognise your individual triggers, your urges and help you to replace these with more helpful coping mechanisms.

There are several services available in Berkshire such as the Complex Needs Service, Psychology services, Community Mental Health Team, Mental Health Crisis Service and the Samaritans.

If you would like to seek help from these services, please visit your GP and they will discuss your treatment options with you.

We know that self-harm can sometimes be difficult or scary to talk about, but you will be listened to and treated with respect by all healthcare professionals.

Need more information?

There are helplines that you can call yourself if you are feeling distressed including:

The Samaritans Helpline – 08457 90 90 90 (24 hour)
Sane Line – 0845 767 8000 (open 6pm until 11pm every day)

There are also various relevant films which could help you:

  • Girl, Interrupted
  • Painful Secrets
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower