Self-harm & Suicide Prevention

As a parent or carer you can help a young person who is self-harming by following the advice given below.

Why do children and young people self-harm?

Factors that motivate people to self-harm include a desire to escape an unbearable situation or intolerable emotional pain, to reduce tension, to express hostility, to induce guilt or to increase caring from others.

A young person may self-harm because they're suffering depression, have a psychiatric disorder, have low self-esteem, have a difficult family life, are suffering from abuse or neglect, have difficulty in forming relationships or because they're isolated or being bullied. There may be many other reasons why a young person chooses to self-harm, and it's usually the symptom of an underlying problem.  

Examples of self-harming behaviour include:

  • Cutting
  • Taking an overdose of tablets
  • Swallowing hazardous materials or substances
  • Burning, either physically or chemically
  • Over/under medicating, eg misuse of insulin
  • Punching/hitting/bruising
  • Hair-pulling/skin picking/head-banging
  • Episodes of alcohol/drug abuse or over/under eating, at times may be deliberate acts of self-harm
  • Risky sexual behaviour

How to spot the signs

The young person's behaviour and emotional wellbeing may have changed. They may suffer mood swings and become withdrawn. Other signs to be aware of may include:

  • Changes in eating/sleeping habits
  • Increased isolation from friends/family
  • Low self-esteem or an increase in negative self-talk
  • Frequent injuries (ie cuts, bruises, burns) with suspicious explanations
  • Covering up their body (even in warm weather)
  • The presence of behaviours that often accompany self-injury: eating disorders, drugs/alcohol misuse, excessive risk taking
  • Discovery of tools used for self-injury (broken disposable razors, lighters, un-bent paper clips)

What can you do to help?

Help the person to find different ways of coping by:

  • Keeping an open mind
  • Making time to listen, but don't pressurise them to talk. Writing down feelings may be easier for them than talking
  • Allowing them to talk about how they feel is probably the most important thing you can do for them. Just feeling that someone is listening and that they're being heard can really help. Good listening is a skill. Always let the person finish what they're saying and, while they're talking, try not to be thinking of the next thing you're going to say

For further information, including information on harm minimisation and where you can get support, please refer to the 'Self-harm: Information and Advice for Parents & Carers leaflet' below.

Suicide Prevention

Some children may feel like there is no hope or might think about ending their life.

Whilst thinking about suicide is relatively common, very few young people will actually attempt to take their own lives.  However, even having suicidal thoughts clearly shows someone is unhappy and needs help and support.

It can be difficult to understand what causes suicidal feelings but they're often triggered by upsetting experiences such as:

  • living with mental illness
  • experiencing abuse
  • being bullied
  • bereavement after losing a loved one
  • being forced to marry
  • having very low self-worth

NSPCC, 2018

What can you do to help?

The NSPCC gives the following advice for parents and carers of young who are feeling suicidal in its publication 'On the edge', 2014:

  • Seek help from professionals - speak to your GP in the first instance, who can refer you to the right service.
  • Be patient - Show you understand but let your child know that you are concerned and are there for them when they feel ready to talk.
  • Listen carefully to what they say - It is vital you listen carefully to what they are telling you.  Show them you understand by repeating what they say to you.
  • Ask your child what they need - Before you offer advice, ask your child what they need from you and what they think would help.
  • Reassure - One of the most important things you can do is reassure your child that you love them, are proud of them, and are not angry with them.  Explain to them that their feelings are not uncommon and that they can overcome them and move forward.
  • Don't ignore what has happened - Be open, discuss concerns and try to deal with them together, keep an open mind and be accepting.  If they say that they're thinking about suicide, aim to agree what you will do together and get immediate help.
  • Encourage them to get help - See below for sources of help.
  • Offer support, but let them take the lead - Offer to support your child, for example by contacting local services for them, or going to an appointment with them.  However, it's very important to let your child take the lead and decide the level of involvement they want from you.
  • Seek support for yourself - Finding out your child is feeling suicidal or self-harming can be distressing.  So give yourself time to understand your own feelings and recognise when you might need support.  Talk about what's happened with someone you trust or call one of the dedicated helplines such as NSPCC, or Young Minds - see below for contact details.

Local sources of information

  • BeeU Access - 0-25 Mental Health Service 0300 124 0093 - www.beeu.org.uk
  • Kooth - Free, anonymous online counselling through your phone, tablet, laptop or PC.  Anyone aged 11-25, living in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, can register to access this service.  No referral is needed - www.kooth.com
  • Children's Society- Drop-in service, BEAM, is now available from The Children's Society (no referral required) - AskBeam@childrenssociety.org.uk
  • MIND Info Line - 0845 766 0163 / 01743 3686647
  • GP or NHS direct 111
  • Shropshire Youth Association - http://www.sya.org.uk/

National advice and helplines

  • Childline- 24hr helpline for children and young people under 18 providing confidential counselling, call 0800 1111
  • PAPYRUS - offers a helpline to give support, practical advice and information to anyone concerned that a young person may be suicidal - HOPELineUK: 08000684141
  • Self injury support - supports women and girls in emotional distress, especially those who self-harm, or their friends or relatives. Limited opening hours. TESS text number for support - 0780 047 2908 TESS email
  • National Self-harm Network - support for people who self-harm, provides free information pack to service users
  • Samaritans - confidential, emotional support for anybody who in crisis: 08457 90 90 90
  • Young Minds - information on a range of subjects relevant to young people. Call 0808 802 5544 www.youngminds.org.uk
  • The Mix - http://www.themix.org.uk/
  • NSPCC Helpline - If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support. Tel: 0808 800 5000