Could an Individual in Your Care be Self-Harming?

Published On: 13 July 2022

Reading time: 3 minutes

Some individuals in our care self harm and we know this number is on the rise. They may be going through a particularly challenging time and feel unable to cope. It can be their way to manage overwhelming emotions, or feelings of panic and anxiety. Others self-harm because they feel numb and struggle to feel anything at all. 

Important messages:

  • Self-harming should always be taken seriously
  • Many children, young people, and adults self-harm
  • Those who self-harm do not always attempt suicide
  • This is not just a “phase” or attention-seeking behaviour

It can be an incredibly stressful time if you know that someone in your care is, or maybe, self-harming. You may worry about doing or saying the wrong thing and making things worse. But, if somebody is self-harming, it’s a sign that something isn’t right in their life, and they need immediate help. You can’t ignore it. 

Signs somebody may be self-harming

It can be hard to know if an individual is self-harming. Whilst the following shouldn’t be seen as a checklist, it does contain some signs you can look out for. 

Common signs of self harming:

  • Unexplained injuries such as bites, burns, bruises, cuts, and bald patches
  • Bloody tissues in the bin or hidden in their room
  • Keeping themselves covered up and avoiding getting changed around others
  • Avoiding activities such as swimming, where more of their body will be exposed
  • Low mood, depression, or talking about being useless or a failure
  • Becoming increasingly withdrawn from friends, family, and professionals
  • Sudden outbursts of anger

You may not have any evidence the individual is self-harming, but just feel that something isn’t right. If you are worried, it’s always best to seek help immediately. Acting early is the best way to support the individual.

Informing others about your concerns

You might feel anxious about raising your concerns, but it’s always best to be open and share your worries to ensure the child, young person, or adult in your care is safe.

Follow the steps in your Safeguarding Policy. This will normally include making a report to your Designated Safeguarding Lead. It may be appropriate to inform other colleagues about your concerns, however, think about how this can be done professionally and following your setting’s procedures.

Think about how to discuss your concerns with parents and carers, if appropriate. This is a highly emotive subject and should be handled sensitively. Think about the support you can offer the family as well as the young person.

Finding help

  • If the child, young person, or adult is in immediate danger, call 999 or arrange to take them to an A+E department for immediate help
  • Young Minds have useful resources for young people who are self harming and a guide for professionals
  • ChildLine is available for young people under the age of 19. It provides a confidential helpline and online chat options
  • The Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116123 if you need someone to talk to about your worries