Self-Harm is a complex issue…but it affects so many teenagers and children that Fegans perceives a need to speak openly and clearly about it.

The three main questions we get asked about self-harm when we talk about it are:

  1. Why does it happen?
  2. How can I prevent it happening to my children?
  3. What do I do if it does happen? How do I support my child at this challenging time?

So, if we begin by saying every child and every circumstance is different. Underlying reasons, triggers and even resolutions will vary from person to person, family to family. We can then accept that any answers given below should be interpreted through the prism of the person’s lived experience. So that said taking the questions in order:


  1. Why?  Self harm is normally a coping mechanism for children to feel in control of what may seem to them to be overtly stressful circumstances, for example exam stress, bullying at school, family conflict. These events seem overwhelming and children will look for a coping mechanism; self harm is often described as this. We often hear words like “quick release” or “control” given as immediate reasons. However, these “positives” are almost always temporary and rapidly outweighed but the negatives that come flooding in like “guilt” or “isolated” or “valueless”. We need to understand this so that when we engage with our children on this matter we don’t make the problem worse with blame, disappointment, guilt or anger. (As shown in the self harm cycle above)


  2. How?  Public Health England published a report in December 2017 that listed a number of factors, effective parenting being number 1. If we just look at this point, Fegans would describe effective parenting as a) Spending regular time with your children one to one, with them leading the conversation and engage! b) Enforce good behaviours with praise, let your children know they are valued for WHO they ARE, not what they achieve. e.g. praise them for their courage or kindness, not their looks. Praise them for how hard they work for an exam, not the outcomes.


  3. What?   DON’T respond with shock, or intrusive questions, or worst of all disappointment or anger. Take these three steps:

a) Thank them for trusting you, say how much that means to you
b) Reassure them that you will always love and accept them
c) Ask them how they like to you support them.
If you have any doubts please refer to your GP or CAMHS or engage with a qualified therapist…you don’t have to do this alone.

Self Harm

So why do so many young people deliberately hurt themselves when most others try to avoid pain and injury?

Research has shown that the experiences most closely linked to self-harm in young people are mental health problems, family breakdown, being in care, and experiencing abuse.*

Selfharming can be difficult to understand and kept secret for fear of being judged. In general, girls are more likely to deal with their distress inwardly and may become withdrawn, anxious or depressed. They are more likely to develop eating disorders and more likely to self-harm.*

What does self-harm actually involve?

Cutting and bruising are the actions that generally come to mind but self-harm has many forms. It can also include severely restricting eating for no medical reason, deliberate deprivation of sleep, pulling out hair and many other presentations.

Whilst it can be difficult to understand the motivation to hurt oneself, for those who selfharm it can bring relief and an outlet for emotions that feel unbearable; it may seem dysfunctional but, for some, it feels like the safest and only coping strategy currently available.

How can we help someone who is self-harming?

Tackling the cause of the emotional pain and putting other, healthier, coping strategies in place can help to safely phase out the urge to self-harm. It is important that wounds are properly cared for and the person knows others are concerned about them and not judging them. The qualified counsellors at Fegans, a Christian charity, work in schools and local centres to help children and adolescents with a variety of issues including anger, depression and anxiety, which can contribute to selfharming behaviour.

Dinah Sheppard works as a counsellor in Fegans’ Tunbridge Wells centre and offers this advice:

If you self-harm, or care for someone who does, it can be scary; talking to someone you trust will help. If you are the person someone chooses to speak to about this, accept it is something they feel the need to do at the moment, listen to them and give them time and space to talk.

 * Sourced from Royal College of Psychiatrists Mental Health and Growing Up fact sheets and

If you are worried about a child that is self harming, counselling can help, find out more on our counselling page.