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HealthInfo Canterbury


Self-harm is when you hurt your body on purpose. It affects people from all walks of life and takes many different forms. Some of the more common ways include cutting (for example, cutting the skin on your arms, wrists or thighs), burning your skin, picking at wounds or scars, self-hitting, or deliberately overdosing on medication, drugs or other harmful substances.

Why people self-harm

self harmOften self-harm happens when you're trying to cope with strong feelings and emotions. It lets you express how distressed you are, and it can feel like it relieves tension. Sometimes it does both. Many people who self-harm have had tough experiences or damaging relationships that they are trying to cope with. Sometimes you may not even be aware of the feelings and emotions you're trying to cope with, but just know that you feel better when you self-harm. Self-harm may make you feel better in the short term, but it doesn't help you to overcome a problem over time.

Treating self-harm

If you use self-harm as a way of coping with difficult feelings, it can be really hard to stop. Self-harming can become addictive, and can damage your physical and mental health, and relationships.

The best thing to do is talk to someone about it. See your doctor or talk to your school counsellor, another counsellor, or a mental health professional. If you feel the first person you speak to isn't helping in the way you want, keep trying until you find someone you are comfortable with and who can guide you in the right direction.

If you feel it might be easier to talk first to someone you don't know, you can try one of the following organisations:


Freephone 0800‑376-633 (any time) or free txt 234 to speak to a counsellor.

You can also chat online using the webchat between 10 am and 10 pm, 7 days a week.

Email any time. Counsellors aim to respond to emails within 24 hours.

Mental Health Advocacy and Peer Support (MHAPS)

MHAPS provides a service called ps.Youth that offers free one-on-one peer support for teenagers with mental illness. Youthful peer support workers who understand what it is like to struggle with mental illness are trained to support young people who are going through mental distress. Phone (03) 365-9479.


Phone: 0800-LIFELINE (0800-543-354)

Txt: HELP (4357)

Lifeline is a free confidential professional counselling service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you're concerned someone you know is self-harming, there are ways you can support them.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2020.


See also:

Anxiety in teens & young adults

Depression in teens & young adults

Page reference: 53215

Review key: HISEH-53215