There are many reasons why people self harm. The most important thing to do is to listen. It is very important to encourage talking as that is a much better way to help the intensity of emotions than to self harm.
Key points to remember about self harm
- self harm is becoming more common amongst teenagers in New Zealand and other countries in the western world
- there are many reasons why people self harm
- the most important thing to do is to listen
- if your young person tells you, or if you find out, ask them what was going through their heads when they were doing it
- listen carefully for the answer and then ask them how they would like you to help
- most importantly DON'T PANIC
- if you keep calm and are reassuring then your young person will have much more confidence to tell you more
- it is very important to encourage talking as that is a much better way to help the intensity of emotions than to self harm
What is self harm?
Self harm is becoming more common amongst teenagers in New Zealand and other countries in the western world. It is usually a coping strategy rather than a problem-solving strategy, which is often how suicide is seen. But, it should always be taken seriously as 30 percent of people who deliberately self harm can die from this.
Self harm can take many forms. It is becoming more common among young people but it can also occur in people of all ages.
It can take the form of:
- hair pulling
Sometimes behaviours such as dangerous drinking, dangerous driving and sexual risk taking can be part of the range of self harm behaviour.
How common is self harm?
The Youth 2000 study is a random sample of all high school students in New Zealand. It has gathered information from young people about many topics that affect their lives through an electronic survey. Youth 2000 gathered information in 2001, 2007 and in 2012. One of the questions asked was about self harm. These were the percentage of young people who said that they had harmed themselves in the last two surveys:
The results show that girls self harm more than boys and there have been increasing numbers of boys and girls self harming in our high schools over the last 5 years.
Why do people self harm?
There are many reasons why people self harm, including:
- to cope with stress and anxiety
- as a physical demonstration of emotional pain
- to feel something when they feel numb (may be part of depression)
- to express hatred against self
- because of guilt and self punishment
- because it has become a habit
- to distract from intrusive thoughts
- to try and make other people listen to them
- to copy a friend
- to feel good
- as part of an illness like borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia, or depression
How can I help if my child is self harming?
The most important thing to do is to LISTEN. If your young person tells you, or if you find out, ask them what was going through their heads when they were doing it. Listen carefully for the answer and then ask them how they would like you to help.
You might ask what they wanted to achieve/get out of what they did and maybe suggest other ways of achieving the same thing.
Most importantly DON'T PANIC.
If you keep calm and are reassuring then your young person will have much more confidence to tell you more. It is very important to encourage talking as that is a much better way to help the intensity of emotions than to self harm.
- find out more about what is causing stress in their lives and offer to help them to deal with it
- provide attention to your young person
- acknowledge the emotion they are feeling - never belittle it or tell them not to be so stupid
- spend more time with them doing things together like have a coffee date, go for a walk or to the movies, watch TV together
- encourage them to join a group, or gain a new skill
- if you are worried and the first steps of listening and encouraging talking are not helping then seek professional help
Where can I go for help if my child is self harming?
It may be helpful to talk to the school counsellor, your family doctor, or a Youth One Stop Shop if there is one in your area.
IF YOUR YOUNG PERSON TELLS YOU THEY WANT TO DIE, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.
If you can't get in to see your family doctor then ring the psychiatric emergency service at your local hospital, or the child and youth mental health service.
Seek medical help if you are worried
Seek medical help if you are worried about your young person's injuries, or if they have taken an overdose. Depending on your level of concern, either:
- contact your family doctor, or
- go to your local hospital's emergency department, or
- dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries)
Helplines for your child or teen
See the Mental Health Foundation website for a listing of helplines you, your child or teen can call
An app to help young people learn more healthy coping skills
Whitu: Seven Ways in Seven Days is available for download from the App Store and Google Play.
The 7 day plan has been clinically designed to provide young people with strategies to reduce their anxiety and improve their well-being.
See more KidsHealth content on emotional and mental wellbeing
See the KidsHealth's section on emotional and mental wellbeing
This page last reviewed 22 June 2021.
Do you have any feedback for KidsHealth?
If you have any feedback about the KidsHealth website, or have a suggestion for new content, please get in touch with us.Email us now