the user-led self-injury organisation.

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In the UK? Call NHS Choices on 111 and consider the ideas below.
It will be Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) on the 1st of March. Check our SIAD page for downloads and details.
Trigger warning: This page deals with caring for wounds, and therefore uses medical words that might upset some people.

Cutting

When you need to SI please find a safe place where you will not be disturbed and that you feel calm in, always use new blades where you can and have your first aid kit ready to hand. LifeSIGNS does not encourage the use of self injury, we simply accept that self injury is a coping method for some people at this time, and we do encourage people who are determined to self injure to do it in as safe and controlled way as possible to minimise harm.

The main points when considering first aid after cutting is that you must control the bleeding and prevent any possible infection.

If you lose a great deal of blood, you can go into shock. This can get pretty serious as the brain and heart can be deprived of much needed blood.

Once the urge to cut yourself has passed and you can concentrate on treating your injuries you need to be sure to:

  • Assess the damage. If blood is pumping out from the injured area, in time to your heartbeat then this means you have cut through an artery as blood is under high pressure when pumped from the heart- therefore immediate direct-pressure is needed, and you must not remove pressure at all for at least 3-5 minutes – consider calling an ambulance;
  • When the area of the wound is particularly large then try and press the edges together to prevent further damage;
  • The bleeding needs to be controlled to make sure blood loss is minimal. Cover the wound with a clean dressing and apply direct pressure to prevent bleeding;
  • When blood trickles or oozes out of a wound then it is a less immediately serious injury, but veins, tendons and nerves may still have suffered damage;
  • If the area of injury is on a limb then raise the limb to reduce blood flow to the area, reducing blood loss and allowing time for a blood clot to form.

When direct pressure is not appropriate, such as when something is stuck in the would, then you may use indirect pressure by pressing the would together – do not remove the object, but call for an ambulance. Some people suggest using a tourniquet to give indirect pressure and reduce blood loss, but using a tourniquet requires a lot of skill and so you should call for medical assistance.

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Burning

If your method of SI is burning by scalding or using a heated object then the most important thing you can do is lower the temperature of the affected area. The tissue damage that has been caused can progress very rapidly so you must rinse the area under cold running water for at least 10 minutes.

Do not apply any creams, balms, oils, moisturisers or anything except cold running water.

If there is any clothing surrounding the burn please remove this by either taking it off or cutting it away; this also applies to removing constricting objects such as rings, watches, bracelets; just take it off. This is done because once tissue has been burned or damaged swelling of the area will follow; also the tissue can become sticky and attach to clothes or other things. IMPORTANT If there is anything that is already stuck to the burn, DO NOT remove it, this could make the situation worse.

The skin can also be burned when it is exposed to certain chemicals. If the chemical you have used is liquid, wash this off with lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes. If the chemical is dry, then brush the chemical off before rinsing the area in water. Please do not try and neutralise the chemical; if you have used an acid DO NOT try and reverse it by adding an alkali.

All chemical burns should be referred to a Doctor, either by attending your local Walk-in-Centre or the nearest A&E Department.

Self-harm and self-injury

What self-injury is


Self-harm is an umbrella term, that includes self-injury.

Overdosing / ingesting toxic substances

If you have taken an overdose or have ingested toxic substances, then medical attention must be sought immediately.  Sometimes the effects can be delayed, so even if you feel fine at the moment you might not be.   Never induce vomiting.  When you go to A&E take along with you the packaging from the medication or substance which you have taken.  Not seeking help can result in long-term irreversible damage or death, even if this was not what you intended to occur, so it is very important.

Who self-injures? And why?

Is the idea of deliberately hurting yourself baffling to you?
Self-injury can provide temporary release from overwhelming emotional distress.

Why hurt yourself?

Who self-injures

Men and self-injury

Male SI

When to seek medical attention

It is very important that you tell someone if you have hurt yourself severely or if you have taken an overdose / swallowed chemical substances.  It is normal to be scared, but it is essential to get proper medical attention as quickly as possible.  The following bullet points give some situations where medical attention should be sought, however it is not exhaustive.

If you are ever in doubt,  phone NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or contact your GP, and they will give advice. NHS Direct will provide you with a trained nurse to talk to almost immediately.

  • If the wound continues to bleed heavily once you have carried out the above steps, including bandaging;
  • If the cut is deep and has exposed underlying muscle, this is dark red in colour and may look like a slab of meat;
  • If you have lost sensation in the area of injury, or more widespread; you may have damaged a nerve;
  • If a burn is on a sensitive area of the body (e.g. face), over a joint or on the palm – the healing process creates scar tissue that can shrink the skin, causing potential movement difficulties for life;
  • If a burn is severe, or large in area;
  • If a burn is caused by chemicals;
  • If after a few hours or several days you can see the wound is infected; it could be red, sore, swollen or weeping.

Talk to NHS Choices now on (111) – call them from the UK simply by dialling 111.

Getting help from your doctor

You don’t *have* to talk about self-injury

Getting Help


There may come a time when you want to get real-life help and support for your self-injury.

You may not want to talk to your doctor about self-injury, and you don’t have to!

You can ask to speak to a counsellor.

References and further reading

Colins Gem: First Aid; Dr. R.M. Youngeon
Cutting the Risk; Self Harm Network
www.bbc.co.uk/health/first_aid/
First Aid from NHS Choices.

And

You may want to think about reducing the noticeability of your scars, or even camouflaging them.

52 Comments

  • Starr

    so i scratch, any tips or tricks? i also pick at my nails, and punch, and hit myself… do those count as self harm?

    Reply
  • DJ Zee

    I found it interesting to read, I am now in my twilight years, and have and still do on occasions self harm, I learnt to cover up, and change the way I SI , My Gp said I slash and dash, I do it to take the immediate pain away and or the traumatic event, but I also shave my head, punch walls, although I have now a punch bag which has helped the knuckles greatly, I have broken bones, always had a good excuse for them! I would be helpful if you could publish something about older adults and healing, because it takes a lot longer and has a bigger effect. The CPN said I am a reactive SI , duh well yeah, lol thankfully she is retired now,

    Reply
  • Sam Galope

    Reading this article brings back memories of the challenging journey I went through with a loved one who engaged in self-injury and self-harm. It’s heartening to see such valuable guidance on providing first aid and support in those critical moments.

    I vividly remember the importance of staying calm and non-judgmental. When you’re faced with self-injury, it can be shocking and distressing, but showing empathy and understanding is key to creating a safe space for the person in need.

    One thing I’ve learned is the significance of offering reassurance. Letting the person know that you genuinely care about their well-being and that you’re there to help can make a world of difference. It’s about creating a connection built on trust and support.

    The reminder to encourage professional help is vital. Self-injury often indicates underlying emotional pain or mental health struggles, and seeking the guidance of a mental health professional is crucial to addressing these root causes.

    This article beautifully encapsulates the steps needed to provide effective first aid while also emphasizing the importance of long-term emotional support and professional intervention. It’s a comprehensive guide for anyone who may find themselves in a situation involving self-injury, and I’m grateful for the insights shared here.

    Reply
  • Rosie

    I have been self-harming since I was 7 and taken from my mom and I am 14 now but I feel reliant upon it and I am not sure how to stop. I also do not know how to clean a wound because I do not use a blade to cut myself. I use broken glass, does this increase the chance of infection??? I also do sometimes cut to a point where I should call 999 but I am scared because they may put me back in a mental health hospital. Everyone always tells me to just stop cutting but its not that simple!!!!

    Does anyone have any advice?

    Reply
    • Nick

      Hi. I suspect broken glass might be dirty and could cause problems, also maybe a little bit would get stuck into the skin. Do you have any ongoing care after a hospital stay? Could you speak with your GP? I hope you soon find the help you are seeking.

  • Evie

    I never use a new blade, and I am a bit worried about infection and scarring. Would it help to use an antiseptic wipe after cutting to reduce the possibility of infection?

    Reply
    • Sue

      Yes I would clean those would’ve once the bleeding has stopped. And then using an antiseptic wipe afterwards cannot hurt but all. Im no expert but do have experience.

    • Sue

      Yes I would clean the affected area once the bleeding has stopped then using an antiseptic wipe afterwards cannot hurt but all. Im no expert but do have experience.

    • Sue

      Hi Evieg I apologise for the first misspelt and jumbled message. It drives my family and loved ones crazy. Im terrible for it. I hope yr ok.

  • Pop

    How do I tell if a cut is infected?

    Reply
    • Caoimhe

      Signs of infection could include redness, heat, swelling, and discharge (pus).

  • Lou

    What about nipping of the skin so hard that it leaves red, angry permanent scars?

    Reply
    • Wedge

      Hello Lou, are you asking for first aid for your nips and scars? Consider gentle warmth or cooling if that helps, and see our page about scar reduction.
      (If you were checking to see if nipping ‘counts’ as self-injury, then we believe that any self-injurious behaviour that’s used as a way of coping is indeed self-injury.)

  • Lin

    What about head banging, punching/hitting ones self, or hair-pulling?

    Reply
    • Wedge

      We often talk about banging and hair-pulling, but we’ll need to update this page to consider first aid for concussion, bruises, and bleeding scalps, thank you.

  • Sam

    Do you have advice for stabbing?

    Reply
    • Wedge

      All deeper wounds need urgent medical advice or attention.

  • Felicity

    i have been self-harming since i was 8 and I’m a tteanager now, i have struggled through lots of things, i have PTSD, Depression, Social Anxiety, Anxiety and possibly more, i tend to use self-harm as a coping method but many people tell me to stop, they dont get its hard to stop though. i’m worried about healing and infection, but I can’t ask for the urgent help I need because no one knows about it, what do i do?

    Reply
    • Sue

      Hi felicity. There are some brilliant forums here online and im sure loads of advice on google. I know what you mean ppl tell me to just stop it! all the time. Its incredibly hard for me to just stop. it’s almost like an addiction for me.This goes for you and anybody else on here. Xx

  • Kody

    I have been hurting myself since i was 11 and I feel reliant upon it. I have come very close to permanent damage to veins and arteries but i am still unable to control my compulsions. I have tried many techniques to stop self-harming but I continue to struggle even after 2 years.

    Reply
  • Jul

    I’ve been struggling with self harm for 3 years, my partner can see how much I’m struggling and tries to do everything she can to help but sometimes it’s too much and I can’t control my urges and I just cut, i don’t worry about the implications my actions have because it helps me to cope with my problems and I’ve been doing it for so long that I know how to clean it and everything. But I know I need help I just don’t want to talk to people face to face because I struggle doing that.

    Reply
  • Emm

    I harm my self once in a while more like whenever i’m stressed the most. I can’t stop. what should I do?

    Reply
    • Mitch

      Try to figure out your problem and what triggers cutting, if you can’t, look up alternatives such as, hitting your skin with rubber bands or holding ice.

  • Mena

    It’s hard but you’ll get through it, i hurt myself and i don’t wanna do it but he helps me a lot but i recommend you to stop doing it asap bc your life is at risk and i care about everyone who reads this, you are loved and cared for

    Reply
  • caroline

    I’ve just relapsed and I’m a teenager who does many sports. I don’t know how to hide my cuts. my parents already know but I don’t want them to find out again. we don’t have anything to clean my cuts with in my house so what I do it put toilet paper on it and then rap a bandage around it. what are believable excuses for many scars and new cuts on my arm

    Reply
    • Wedge

      You need to get help. You can’t continue like this. You’re alone in your distress, and alone in your self-care – you need and deserve help and support. It’s time to talk to your parents about the things behind your self-injury.

  • Bri

    how do i keep it clean while it heals?

    Reply
    • Starr

      re dress once- 3 times a week and use antiseptic. make sure to keep the bandaging tight enough to apply pressure to keep bleeding to a minimum

  • Sophia

    How do I clean them and make sure I prevent infection?

    Reply
  • geo

    I have been self harming myself and I do not know how to treat my scars at all. Can you give me some advice of how to cover up my self harming wounds.

    Reply
  • Cath

    How do I know what is needed if the injury isn’t bleeding but it is puffy and hurts more than my other ones? I use scissors but I never do anything more than cut off small pieces of skin. These are mere scrapes. I put Neosporin on, but I don’t think it is working.

    Reply
  • emily

    how do i clean it and prevent infection

    Reply
  • Erin

    How do I take care of a self harm scar that was made through grazing my skin with my nails. It isn’t deep, it’s more like a bad graze in the scab stage

    Reply
  • Monica

    I am a teen and my body is filled with cuts. How could I hide them if they’re on visible spots? I don’t want my parents to know and it’s very difficult. I am also being looked at curiously. Could I make up some good excuse?

    Reply
    • Wedge

      Monica, have you found that self-injury has helped you cope with overwhelming emotions, or some difficult things at home or school?

      Aren’t you now worried that self-injury has taken over your life? It sounds like you’re in deep, and it’s highly likely that an adult is going to want to talk to you about what’s going on in your life. Why not choose to talk to someone asap rather than waiting for someone to surprise you? Of couse, I understand that whatever has driven you to self-injure is hard to talk about, but you need and deserve support, and so it’s time you confided in someone and got help with the underlying problem – so you can then reduce your reliance upon self-injury.

  • Leah

    I need to know where I can get a kit to take care of my SIs but I need to do it secretly and I need to get it as cheap as possible

    Reply
    • Wedge

      I don’t mean to be unhelpful, Leah, but we don’t know what country you’re in.

      You literally need plasters and bandages, and clean-wipes from your chemist / pharmacy. You might browse basic first-aid kits in your local pharmacy or supermarket. If bleeding is an issue, seek medical help immediatly.

  • Anonymous

    I have relapsed after a few years and although my partner knew what I did before he is so angry I’ve resorted to it again. He has made me promise to not do it again but that’s a promise I am not keeping. Just hiding it further. How can u explain it’s not him and I would not put our kids in danger it’s me and in struggling?

    Reply
    • Wedge

      This is a very serious matter and I’m unsure people will respond, seeing as this comment is on our first-aid page.

      The only promise you can make is to learn new ways of coping, and to seek professional support. Tell your partner this, so that you’re never accused of lying (which would be a cruel accusation, but sometimes people are cruel).

      Learning news ways of dealing with stress and distress is vital – as it’s awkward (perhaps impossible) to just ‘stop’ self-injury without alternative behaviours established.

  • Amy

    What do I do if I want to hurt myself and I cant help cutting myself because some other kids are bulling me and how can I make the scars look like they were never there?

    Reply
    • Wedge

      Amy, please look at our scars page for guidance.

      Now, first you need to tell an adult about the bullying. this adult needs to take action – you’re not going to them to get advice, they need to take action (is it at school? Tell a teacher.). Bullying must stop, it can be stopped; it’s not your fault.

      Then you need to develop new ways of coping when you’re upset. Please browse our ‘Help’ section. Talk to an adult about your cutting and be prepared to make some changes in your life so that you can be happier. You deserve and need support to do different things.

  • Bek

    Thank you Mima!!
    Does anyone have any advice to reduce scarring/ visability of scars and know how long a mark would remain before you could assume it would be perminant.

    Reply
    • Wedge

      Bek, please see our scars page.

      It’s difficult to talk about the permanency of scars without talking about the severity of the cut, which we don’t do. The simple answer is that all scars are permanent but the colour fades over years. Big scars remain visible forever.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to know how to clean a self-harm cut. Like, with cold, or lukewarm water. Or with something like a skin cream or something? It’d be really helpful.

    Reply
    • Wedge

      Water. Assuming it’s a cut that is not profusely bleeding, you run it under a cool or cold running tap. Dry with a new, clean cloth or new clean tissue. You can use anti-bac cream like Savlon, if you like, but the most important thing is to put a plaster on.

  • Ray

    Heya.

    If you are in an emergency situation, where the cut does not want to stop bleeding and you run out of gaze or something to protect the wound with, I would suggest using a sanitary pad over the wound. I know it sounds weird. But they are made to absorb an excessive amount of liquid.

    Reply
    • Wedge

      If a cut will not stop bleeding, or it looks like a lot of blood, you also need to get medical attention. Speak to someone, see someone.

  • Mima

    Hey Ab,
    I’m a nurse in A&E specialising in wound care.
    I would suggest that some essentials are bought from a pharmacy. These are:
    Petroleum jelly/Vaseline
    Gauze (non-filament or similar)
    Steri-strips/butterfly stitches/adhesive tape strips
    Non-waterproof plaster (the one that comes in a roll is perfect)
    Non-waterproof plasters
    If I have a “superficial” wound (one that’s skin deep but doesn’t bleed a lot or expose a muscle etc.) I hold it under a tap for 2-3 minutes to make sure there’s no fluff from clothes in there, don’t worry too much if the water turns pink, bleeding actually pushes bacteria out of the wound. I would the let the wound air dry and then look closely at it. If it is a gaping cut then use some steri-strips to close it. Pinch the edges of the cut together and stick them over it. Then cover with a combination of plasters and gauze so that the cut doesn’t have sticky on it but there is sticky all around it, this will stop any bugs getting in. From this point on, it needs to stay dry and if you can leave the plaster on, that would be best. The strips can come off in 7 days.
    If you have a burn, scratch or non-gaping cut, put it under a tap again and let it dry. Put a smear of petroleum jelly over it (this acts like a layer of skin to stop bugs getting in and keeps the wound moist which will help it heal) and then make a plaster/gauze creation that has no stick on the wound but sticky all around it. These wounds can be looked at more often and burns in particular will get quite wet and need looking at. As long as you haven’t had to use ster-strips you can put it under the tap again and repeat the Vaseline and plaster trick!
    Please note, if you get any white/yellow stuff on your wound, there is a dressing called Inadine which you can buy from a pharmacy. If that happens, swap the Vaseline for Inadine and leave it on for at least 5 days, it kills infection and helps wounds scab properly.

    *All ideas expressed above have been gleaned from experience and appraisal of current literature. These views are my own and are only intended to be used as informed guidance for self-care, all self-care is the sole responsibility of the person taking part in it.

    Reply
  • Ab

    Could you maybe give some more information on how to dress a self injury wound? And how to take care and/or prevent infection? This was very helpful and I appreciate all of the support you give people :) Thank you! :)

    Reply

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