Children and young people

Self-harm

Evidence shows that children and young people in particular may turn to self-harm when struggling with life pressures. There could be many reasons why they may try to hurt themselves but it's often a way for them to release overwhelming emotions and a way of coping

Self-harm can become a compulsion and has been linked to or can be a result of:

  • depression and bullying
  • being under pressure at school
  • emotional abuse
  • grief and difficulties with relationships
  • low self-esteem
  • loneliness
  • sadness
  • anger
  • numbness
  • lack of control over their lives

Often, the physical pain of self-harm might feel easier to deal with than the emotional pain that's behind it. It can make a young person feel they're in control of something in their lives. Sometimes it can also be a way for them to punish themselves for something they've done or have been accused of doing.

If a person has been self-harming they'll go to great lengths to cover up any scars or injuries. Young people may even keep themselves covered up in long-sleeved clothes even in hot weather.

If you think someone has been hurting themselves look out for physical signs to their head, wrists, arms, thighs or chest such as:

  • cuts or scratches
  • bruises
  • burns
  • bald patches from pulling out hair

The emotional signs can be harder to spot and don't necessarily mean that a young person is self-harming. But if you see any of these as well as any of the physical signs then there may be cause for concern.

  • depression, tearfulness and low motivation
  • becoming withdrawn and isolated (e.g. wanting to be alone in their bedroom for long periods)
  • unusual eating habits leading to sudden weight loss or gain
  • low self-esteem and self-blame
  • drinking or taking drugs

Young minds provide a useful guide on self-harm and getting the help you need

Depression and Anxiety

Children and young people can find it especially difficult to express their feelings and open up to others. If they're suffering from depression they may feel like there is no hope and find it difficult to imagine ever being happy again. Or, if they're highly anxious they may be even more worried about talking to someone about how they feel.

The Mental health problems page provides more information and support.

Emotional health problems

All children are different but some of the common signs of mental health problems in children include:

  • becoming withdrawn from friends and family
  • persistent low mood and unhappiness
  • tearfulness and irritability
  • worries that stop them from doing day to day things
  • sudden feelings of anger
  • loss of interest
  • problems eating or sleeping

Help and support

If you or someone you know needs some advice and support you can contact:

  • Childline is a charity dedicated to supporting children and young people under the age of 19 in the UK with any issue they are facing
  • Health for Teens which has lots of information about all areas of health including emotional health and well being
  • Kooth is free, safe and anonymous online support for young people
  • Young Minds aim to make sure young people get the mental health support they need. You can get information about self-harm and mental health.
  • Samaritans step-by-step guide (PDF, 5.8 Mb)

    For teachers in schools and colleges: this guide will help you prepare for and respond to a suspected suicide attempt in schools and colleges.