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Children and Young People who self-harm / are at risk of suicide

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is any behaviour such as self cutting, burning, swallowing objects, taking an overdose or where the intent is deliberately to cause self-harm. Some people who self-harm can also experience suicidal thoughts or a desire to kill themselves.

Why do children and young people self-harm?

Children and young people may self-harm for a variety of reasons such as the following:

– a difficult family life that includes poor parental relationships, abuse, neglect or rejection
– a psychological condition such as an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or personality disorder
– emotional difficulties such as relationship problems, peer pressure, being bullied

Signs of self-harm

There may be a change in behaviour of the child or young person that is associated with self-harm such as:

– mood swings
– becoming withdrawn and isolation from family and friends
– change in eating and sleeping habits
– poor attendance at school and lowering of grades
– abusing drugs or alcohol

Examples of self-harm

– cutting
– scratching
– taking an overdose
– swallowing hazardous substances
– burning
– over or under medicating
– punching, hitting, bruising
– over or under eating
– risky sexual behaviour

Young People and Suicide

If you are close to or are supporting a young person that is feeling suicidal or attempts suicide, it can be incredibly worrying as well as emotionally and physically draining. It is important to remember:

  • Be alert – Not everyone who thinks about suicide will tell someone, but there may be warning signs.
  • Be honest – Tell the person why you’re worried about them, and ask about suicide. Tell them you want to know how they really are, and that it’s OK to talk about suicide.
  • Listen – Just listening is one of the most helpful things you can do. Try not to judge or give advice.
  • Get them some help – It’s OK if you don’t know how; the ideas on this web page can get you started.

You may feel worried about talking to a child/young person about their self-harming or if they are thinking about suicide. It is important to talk about it even if you find it uncomfortable. It is a myth that you may put the idea into their head.

If you feel that the child/young person is at risk of self-harm or suicide then it is important to understand the seriousness and immediacy of the risk. If the child/young person talks about killing themselves always take this seriously as many people who do complete suicide have previously told a professional about their intention.

The following warning signs suggest that the risk of suicide is high:

– Current self-harm, especially if it poses a risk to the child/young person’s health and wellbeing
– Thoughts of suicide are frequent and not easily dismissed
– Specific plan to complete suicide
– Access to the means to complete suicide (for example, stockpiling tablets).
– Significant drug or alcohol abuse
– Situation felt to be causing unbearable pain or distress
– Previous, especially recent, suicide attempt
– Evidence of current mental illness
– No support mechanisms when distressed
– Limited protective factors that may prevent them from attempting suicide or harming themselves, for example, socially isolated, poor relationships with parents/carers etc.

If you are faced with a child or young person who may have suicidal ideas or thoughts it is vital to ensure an urgent assessment is carried out to determine levels of risk and their immediate safety and to refer to the correct agency as the levels risk indicate, you should contact the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) to inform them. You can also call the Youth Emotional Support (YES) duty line for advice about how to manage the young person in the immediate term.

If a child or young person is at immediate risk you must call 999

Take Care of Yourself

As a professional it is important to look after your own health and to make time to get support and advice for yourself too. It may be helpful to discuss your feelings with another person such as your manager, a friend or confidential service.


For training on self harm and suicide visit the Coastal West Sussex MIND course directory

Who to contact:

CHILDLINE: 0800 11 11

MIND: 0300 123 3393

NSPCC: 0808 800 5000

Samaritans: 116 123


Youth Emotional Support (YES) Service

GRASSROOTS Suicide Prevention

GRASSROOTS “Stay Alive” Suicide Prevention App

Supporting documents: