Self Harm - Support for Parents

As a parent/carer, you may feel angry, shocked, guilty and upset. These reactions are normal, but what the person you care about really needs is support from you. The person needs you to stay calm and to listen to them cope with very difficult feelings that build up and cannot be expressed. The person needs to find a less harmful way of coping.

What is Self Harm?
Self-harm is any behaviour such as self-cutting, swallowing objects, taking an overdose, running in front of a car, burning, either physically or chemically, hair-pulling/skin-picking/head-banging, risk taking behaviour e.g. alcohol intoxication where the intent is to deliberately cause harm to self.

Is it just attention-seeking?
There are many factors that lead people to self-harm, including a desire to escape, to reduce tension, to express hostility, to make someone feel guilty or to increase caring from others. However, some people who self-harm have a desire to kill themselves. Even if the young person does not intend to take their own life, self-harming behaviour may express a strong sense of despair and needs to be taken seriously. It is not just attention-seeking behaviour.

Why do young people harm themselves?
All sorts of upsetting events can trigger self-harm, such as arguments with family, break-up of a relationship, failure in exams and bullying at school/college. Sometimes several stresses occur over a short period of time and one more incident is the final straw.
Young people who have emotional or behavioural problems or low self-esteem can be particularly at risk from self harm. Suffering a bereavement or serious rejection can also increase the risk. Sometimes, young people try to escape their problems by taking drugs or alcohol. This only makes the situation worse. For some people, self-harm is a desperate attempt to show others that something is wrong in their lives.

What you can do to help

  • Keep an open mind
  • Make the time to listen
  • Help the person find different ways of coping
  • Go with the person to get the right kind of help as quickly as possible

Some people you can contact for help, advice and support are:

  • Your child’s school/college Young Minds Parents Information Service: Tel. 0808 802 5544
  • Your family doctor Samaritans: Call free on 116 123, 24hrs or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • School Nurse PAPYRUS HOPELine UK: Tel. 0800 068 4141
  • Health Visitor
  • CAMHS Duty Line: Tel. 01709 304808