Young women's version of this guide

Your teen years can be the most complicated time of your life. Some of your challenges include: more school work, changes in relationships, and changes in your body and brain. Sometimes it can be hard to handle the feelings that come with these changes, while you’re also trying to manage the day-to-day of teen life. Some teens have a harder time than others managing their feelings and may turn to harmful activities such as drinking, using drugs, or self-harm.

What is self-harm?

When you hurt your body on purpose it is called “self-harm”. Other names for self-harm are “cutting”, “self-injury”, or “self-mutilation”. Some ways that people hurt themselves are by cutting, scratching, picking, or burning their bodies.

People who self-harm sometimes hurt themselves repeatedly, and often have scars. While you are self-harming you might not feel pain, and could do more damage to your body than you mean to.

Why do people self-harm?

People who injure themselves are often experiencing overwhelming feelings, such as extreme anxiety or tension, and in the moment self-harm may seem to provide a feeling of escape or relief. Some people also experience “depersonalization,” which is when a person doesn’t feel real, or feels they are outside of their body watching themself. People who feel this way might cut or harm themselves to help themselves feel “real” again. Others cut or injure themselves as a way of punishing themselves or others close to them. Sometimes, people who self-harm have a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, and have a sense of shame about themselves.

Most people who self-harm haven’t yet learned healthier ways to cope with negative feelings. Even if you feel stuck in a pattern of injuring yourself, there are definitely ways to help overcome these patterns.

Is self-harm the same as being suicidal?

No, but sometimes injuries can be severe enough to cause death, and sometimes people who self-harm may become suicidal.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, you should get professional help immediately. Tell a parent, an adult you trust, or someone who can help right away. If you can’t get someone to help you or do not know what to do, call 911 or go to the closest hospital emergency room.

What should I do if I self-harm?

It’s very important to ask for help if you or someone you know self-harms. Talk to an adult you trust, such as a parent, relative, guidance counselor or your health care provider. Friends can be very supportive, but it is important that you tell an adult too.

When you talk to a trusted adult, tell them you have been self-harming, and that you want to stop. Ask them for support, and ask them to help you find resources and make a plan for stopping.

Special note: If you have a cut that’s infected or that won’t stop bleeding, you’ll need to get help from a medical provider right away.

Can I stop hurting myself?

Yes, you can stop. Stopping self-harm can be like quitting drugs or alcohol. It’s challenging, but with support, resources, and a good plan, you can do it! You can find healthier ways to handle your intense feelings, and you can learn to take good care of yourself.

Deciding to stop self-harming is a decision that you will have to make for yourself—but it is a lot easier with the support of family, friends, and a health care provider.

The first thing you should know is that you are a good person, and that your body and mind deserve good care. Someone may have told you differently, , but it is important to know this basic truth about yourself! Knowing this can inspire you to learn healthier ways of coping with stress.

How do I stop hurting myself in the moment?

It’s important to find ways to soothe or focus yourself when you feel like self-harming. Make a list of non-harmful things that help you feel relaxed and real, such as listening to music, doing something physical, meditating, drawing, or reading. Keep this list where you can see it so when you feel like hurting yourself you will have other options and you can choose to do something else.

Here are some ways to use up nervous energy:

  • Go for a long walk
  • Dance to loud music
  • Shoot hoops or kick soccer goals
  • Go jogging
  • Clean your room

Here are some ways to relax and de-stress:

  • Take a bath or a hot shower
  • Listen to music
  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to a friend
  • Read a good book

Many teens find that keeping busy and spending time with good friends and family helps the most.

How can I recover from self-harm?

Self-injury is a symptom of deeper emotional pain. Getting counseling or psychotherapy will help you better understand your feelings and your life situation. A counselor or therapist can help you figure out why you hurt yourself, what situations put you at risk, and what steps you can take to learn healthier ways to deal with intense emotions. A therapist can also help with depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Sometimes a health care provider may recommend medication as part of your overall plan for recovering from self-harm.

Making the decision to stop self-harming is a big first step. Remember that learning healthier ways to handle intense feelings will take time. The key to recovering is to get support from people who care about you, and treatment from an experienced therapist or counselor. You deserve this change, so keep working on it, and remember, you are not alone in your recovery!

How can I help a friend who self-harms?

If you have a friend who self-harms, there are steps you can take to help them stop, and help them recover.

First, suggest to your friend that they talk to an adult they trust, like a parent, school counselor, or their health care provider. Second, support your friend by listening to them, and letting them know you care about them. Lastly, print out this guide and give it to them. They can read it when they feel ready.

If your friend won’t talk to an adult, and refuses help, you should find a trusted adult who knows your friend, and talk to that person. Tell an adult even if your friend asked you to keep their self-harm a secret! Your friend might get angry at you, but in this situation, it’s more important to get help. Self-harm is very serious and can be deadly, and your friend’s safety is more important than privacy right now. Your friend might be mad at you for a while, but you can apologize and talk about it later, after you know they’re safe.

Additional Resources