Self Harm

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is an expression of personal distress, not an illness, and there are many varied reasons for a person to harm him or herself. Self-harm describes a wide range of behaviours that someone does to themselves, usually in a deliberate and private way, and without suicidal intent, resulting in non-fatal injury. In the majority of cases, self-harm remains a secretive behaviour that can go on for a long time without being discovered.

Many children and young people may struggle to express their feelings and will need a supportive response to assist them to explore their feelings and behaviour and the possible outcomes for them.

There are many ways in which children and young people self-harm, some examples of self-harm behaviours are:

  • self-cutting or scratching
  • burning or scalding oneself
  • head banging or hair pulling
  • over/under-medicating, e.g. misuse of insulin
  • punching/hitting/bruising
  • swallowing objects
  • self-poisoning i.e. taking an overdose or ingesting toxic substances

There are other behaviours that are related but which do not normally fall within the definition which include:

  • Self-neglect – physical and emotional
  • reckless risk taking
  • staying in an abusive relationship
  • eating distress (anorexia and bulimia/eating disorders)
  • substance misuse
  • risky sexual behaviour.

Common myths about self-harm

The most common myths about most young people who self-harm are that they:

  • are manipulative
  • are attention-seeking
  • do it for pleasure
  • do it as a group activity
  • follow a ‘Goth’ sub-culture
  • have a borderline personality disorder
  • are a risk to others

LSCB Practice Guidance for responding to Concerns about Self Harm

This document has been developed as a reference guide for all agencies and practitioners who come into contact with children, young people and their families. It is intended as a guide to supporting children/ young people who have thoughts of, are about to or have self-harmed.

The guidance will support practitioners to keep children safe by outlining:

  • what self-harm is;
  • The triggers for self-harm; and
  • Guidance about what to do when working with young people and children who self- harm.

What to do if you’re worried about a child or young person

Agencies and practitioners must refer to the LSCB Responding to Need Guidance to help them in their decision making about the level of need and the most appropriate assessment and interventions, including early help and referral to Children’s Social Care.

Where there are serious or complex needs or where there are safeguarding concerns, practitioners should consult with their designated lead for safeguarding and where appropriate make a referral to Careline using the MARF or initiate an Early Help Meeting to co-ordinate support.

Supporting resources:

 Responding to Concerns about Self Harm

Self Harm - Flow Chart

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