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Self-harm describes when a person intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.

The intention of self-harm is often when a person feels they want to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension. Sometimes it’s a mixture of all three.

Self-harm can be a cry for help.

People self-harm for many different reasons. It may be due to:

  • Social problems such as being bullied, issues with relationships including friends or family, or coming to terms with their sexuality.
  • Trauma such as physical, or sexual abuse, or death of a close family member.
  • Psychological causes such as having repeated thoughts or voices telling the person to harm themselves, or borderline personality disorder.

People may self-harm in different ways such as cutting themselves, pinching or hitting themselves, or ingesting toxic or poisonous substances.

How they might feel

Someone who self-harms may:

  • Feel a sense of self-loathing and low self-esteem.
  • Feel depressed.
  • Feel they are not good enough, and blame themselves for things that happen.

Things you might observe

If someone is self-harming you may notice some of the following symptoms of behaviour:

  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest.
  • Keeping themselves fully covered even in hot weather.
  • Signs of depression, such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything.
  • Not wanting to go on and wishing to end it all.
  • Becoming very withdrawn and not speaking to others.
  • Signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they’re not good enough for something.
  • Signs they have been pulling out their hair.

Watch this video to gain an understanding of the emotions and feelings of isolation commonly experienced by individuals who self harm, and how talking to someone was important in aiding their recovery.

  • Be sensitive and understanding with the student and tell them there is support available for them.
  • Reassure the student that there is hope for recovery if they are willing to accept help and support and discuss a referral to the Wellbeing team for additional support.
  • Identify what practical support could be considered to support the student.
  • Ask the student if they are registered with a GP. People who self-harm can seriously hurt themselves, so it’s important that they speak to a GP. You can offer to support them to make an appointment if they are willing for you to do this. If they are not registered with a GP, the Wellbeing webpages have information on registering with a local GP.
  • If the student requires referral for specific issues, for example, they are struggling with money worries, have an accommodation issue or their issues are complex then consider the routes in the ‘How to Refer’ section. Seek the student’s consent to refer and explain that they can also self-refer to Student Services.
  • Make sure the student is aware of how to contact the Wellbeing team and what they should do if at any point they feel they cannot keep themselves safe.

While self-harm is a coping mechanism for some students, the Wellbeing team is able to support them to manage their self-harming behaviours and to explore alternative mechanisms.

If you are unsure of how to support a student or concerned that a student might be at risk, contact the Wellbeing team on 01695 650988 (extension 7265) for advice.

  • Don’t promise confidentiality.
  • Don’t assume self-harm is ‘attention seeking’, it isn’t but it can be a cry for help.
  • Don’t assume the student’s acts of self-harm are attempts to end their life – although self-harm can be a risk for suicide.
  • Don’t judge or try to make the student feel guilty about their self-harm.
  • Don’t feel you have to provide specialist help to the student, they will need a referral for more specialist support if they wish to accept it.
  • Don’t pressure the student to accept support unless you believe they are at imminent risk to themselves or they are self-harming in a way that is causing distress to other students.

Refer a student if:

  • You feel you can no longer provide practical advice or support to the student.
  • You feel the student requires more specialist support.
  • You feel the student is at immediate risk to themselves or others.

If you believe the student is an imminent risk to themselves or others, ideally do not let them leave your office or teaching room. Contact the Catalyst Helpdesk on 01695 650800 (extension 7800) and ask them to put you through to the Duty Wellbeing Adviser in Student Services. If it is out of hours, contact Campus Support on extension 01695 584227(extension 4227).

If a student discloses to you that they have self-harmed or are self-harming and you feel that they are at serious and immediate risk (meaning they have taken an overdose of tablets or have ingested a poisonous substance), ring 999 immediately. There is no safe amount when it comes to overdoses and other poisonous substances. If you are unsure as to the level of risk that someone is at as a result of their self-harming behaviours, please ring the Wellbeing team for further advice and guidance.

If a student is an immediate risk to themselves, you do not need the consent of the student to contact Student Services.

If a student is not at immediate risk to themselves but requires specialist support, you must obtain their consent to refer them to any of the following services as appropriate:

Team NameSupport OfferedContact Details
Academic RegistryProvide advice on and processing of course changes: transferring course/university, repeating a year, module changes, changing mode of study, appeals.[email protected]

01695 584803
Accommodation teamProvide advice/guidance about accommodation both on and off campus, including hall fee queries.[email protected]

01695 650800
Campus LifeEnsure that students live in a safe/secure environment on campus. Promote and organise events to help students make the most of their time here and administrate the Disciplinary Regulations.[email protected]

01695 657570
Campus SupportProvides 24/7 support and security on campus.01695 584227
CareersProvide advice and support with career planning, job hunting, CV writing, volunteering and maximising work experience[email protected]

01695 650800
ChaplaincyProvides both staff and students of all faiths and none with pastoral support. Activities/events focus on friendship, community, support and faith.[email protected]

01695 650800
Counselling (assessed through the Wellbeing team)Referral always via the Wellbeing team. Also provide group workshops and 1:1 therapeutic support to help students find solutions to issues they are facing.[email protected]

01695 650988
Disability and InclusionProvide advice and support for students with physical/sensory/mental health, autism spectrum disorders or other additional needs. Also provide advice and guidance on reasonable adjustments and support available. Support for specific learning needs – including dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD can be found via the Library and Learning Services SpLD team.[email protected]

01695 657568

[email protected]

01695 650800

Law clinicProvide a free clinic to all staff and students run by Year 3 law students who can advise on legal questions or difficulties such as support with housing contract and employment law for example.Law Clinic
Money AdviceProvide advice on all money-related matters including student funding, budgeting, and the Student Support Fund.[email protected]

01695 650800
Students’ UnionProvides representation for students and promotes and hosts activities/events. Provides advice and support to students on various issues including academic, housing, and money.[email protected]

01695 657327
Student Support TeamTargeted support for Care Experienced and Estranged Students (CEES). Advice and support for all students who are thinking of leaving or at risk of withdrawing or being withdrawn.
[email protected]

01695 650800
Wellbeing teamFirst contact for mental health concerns. Practical advice, support and signposting for any issue impacting on a student’s wellbeing.[email protected]

01695 650988

Useful links and information

For more information about self-harm, follow the links below.

NHS guide to self-harm


Student Minds

Young Minds


Support and self-help resources for students
Staff E-learning resources
Staff training at Edge Hill University
Back to the mental health toolkit homepage