the user-led self-injury organisation.

  • UK
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People of any age can turn to self-injury, it isn’t a ‘teen thing’.

Read this first before you hurtBefore discussing adult self-injury, we should first clarify what the word ‘adult’ might mean. Generally it might refer to age, and for the most part this article is aimed towards people who are older in years. But ‘adult’ can also relate to responsibility, and at LifeSIGNS we are only too aware that there are many younger people who live very adult lives, and who face responsibilities and challenges far beyond their years. So whatever your age, if you consider yourself to be living an adult life, then these words are for you.

We hope by now we’ve managed to get the message across that self-injury isn’t a ‘teen thing’, and that people of all ages might rely on self-injury in order to cope. While younger and older people share many of the same challenges in life and with their self-injury, there are also different difficulties to face by people at different stages in their life.


Because self-injury is often perceived as something ‘young people’ do, older adults can feel that it is something they should have ‘grown out’ of. These feelings can be even more difficult when an older person has turned to self-injury for the first time, rathe than discovering self-injury in their youth.

AdultThe media

Although increasingly willing to raise awareness about self-injury, the media still focus on young people far too much. Even television programmes that include a self-injury storyline either tend to be programmes aimed at young people, or focus on a young person self-injuring. This sends out an inaccurate message, and increases feelings of isolation in older people who self-injure.

ManLess help

If you are older, it might feel that there are fewer organisations out there that can help you. There seems to be a lot of mental health and support related organisations that cater to people under 25; but if you’re over 25 it can be more difficult to find somewhere that you feel you ‘belong’. Often, funding for projects and support services is literally ring-fenced for the government’s or sector’s definition of ‘young people’, meaning that organisations are more likely to get funding / budgets if they develop services for young people.

Resources, funding, and the attitudes of some healthcare professionals, may make it more difficult for older people to obtain the professional help they need.

Young adults, once they hit a certain age, may find they lose vital support and resources that they had been relying on.

CoupleFriends and loved ones

Friends / loved ones of adults may be less likely to be educated surrounding the subject of self-injury, making it more difficult for an adult to bring up the subject with loved ones.

Also, whereas young people are encouraged to talk about their self-injury with parents and loved ones, adults have to consider just who they can turn to.


Adults, in general, have more responsibilities than young people. Whereas young people are usually the ones who are cared for, quite often adults find that they are only ‘carers’ and are not ‘cared for’ themselves. This not only means that they may receive less support, but it also means they have a responsibility to maintain their caring roles, while attempting to also care for themselves.

When a young person finds themselves in a caring role, the burden can be even greater. They are at a time of their lives when they are supposed to be the one being cared for, and yet while their friends might be living the ‘normal’ life that young people need, they find they are forced to take on adult responsibilities. This is damaging not only because they tend to miss out on the ‘fun’ side of youth necessary for emotional balance and wellbeing, but also because they don’t yet have the life experience needed to cope with such responsibilities.

This is also true for young people who although may not have to care for others, neither are they cared for themselves. Some young people are left to fend for themselves, without the support, nurturing and guidance necessary for emotional balance, growth and wellbeing. It’s not surprising that life can feel overwhelming.

Shame and secrecy

Considering all these matters, shame and secrecy, while common in anyone who self-injures, may be even more burdensome for older people.

Adult ManTime

Adults who are juggling careers / families / finances may have less time for themselves than some younger people, making it more difficult for them to engage in hobbies and activities that can enhance health and happiness and provide much needed distraction.

Similarly, young people forced to cope with adult responsibilities will not have the time they need for themselves. They may have to care for others, or they may have to juggle school with a job and household responsibilities. We don’t mean the usual responsibilities that a young person might expect, such as household chores, helping care for younger sibblings occasionally, or working to earn money for themselves. We’re talking about people who run their households, or are the sole carer for another person, or who are forced to work in order to financially support others. These people are far less likely to have the time they need to care for themselves.

The feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of time can be even more enhanced for young people in these situations, because they are only too aware that their lives are not the norm, and that their peers are leading a far more care-free life.


Because of their increased life experience and more complex daily lives, adults (or young people living with adult responsibilities) may have a wider range of ‘drivers’ that could lead to self-injury.

How we can help

Whatever your age or responsibilities, you are not alone. People of all ages and in all kinds of circumstances turn to self-injury in order to cope. And everyone deserves help and support.

LifeSIGNS is a fully inclusive organisation and our members range from young teenagers to older people who have retired. Our resources are written for ‘people’ who are affected by self-injury, and we offer guidance and support for everyone.

Whether you need advice for moving away from self-injury, distraction techniques, hiding scars, obtaining professional help, talking to loved ones, getting through the urge to self-injure, or just somewhere to talk about the things that are going on your life, we are here for you.

We are constantly looking to improve and increase the resources we offer to people who self-injure. So whether you’re an adult in years, or a young person living an adult life, we’d appreciate hearing from you. If you’d like to share your own personal story with our members, or if you have suggestions for ways in which we could improve our resources to help more people like you, or if you’d like to challenge or discuss any of the points raised in this article, then please do contact us.


  • Min

    No matter how hard I try I always go back to self-injury. It’s like I’m giving myself what I deserve. Afterwards I feel better but it has been difficult to keep scars hidden during warmer weather. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop.

  • Jam

    I self harmed in my teens and now I’m a single mom and doing it again. I’d talk to my mom but she died recently. I’d talk to dad but depression took him away from us. I’d talk to the man I loved for the last 10 years but he left me… at this point cutting is my only friend.

  • Bloom

    I’m nearly 40 and I still self harm when triggered. I have a really responsibile job and I’m a Mum of a toddler. I want to stop but sometimes I feel it’s the only way anyone hears my pain.

  • K

    I’m 32 and I harm myself. I do it when I’m upset or annoyed and yes sometimes it helps. But it helps and feels like I’m letting everything out.

  • Anne

    I told my counselor that I don’t want to hurt anybody else, just myself. I feel like I’ve always sacrificed my life for others only to get slapped down. I’m in my 50s btw.

  • Lou

    That’s exactly how I feel Mag

    It is how I cope when I can’t cope with the pain anymore
    It’s only myself I’m hurting and it’s helping by doing it.

  • Mag

    We’re trying to cope. We feel guilty. But we SHOULDN’T! What we do is necessary to relieve the pressure. I’m in my 60s. It’s really hot here; I’m wearing long sleeves. Because I don’t want my family to see what I did.

  • Mag

    I’m in my 60s. Been hurting myself for more than forty years. So many scars. I don’t usually hide them; they’re part of me. But they came about when I was in my early twenties. Acceptable, somehow, for a young person. Even though it wasn’t entirely understood by certain people.
    Never mind. All those years; tried so hard to change. But life became SO painful. Worst was when my son died suddenly. No support; no counselling. Left alone to deal with the terrible grief. Never any support since. Sometimes, I break. I want to scream. But I have no-one to support me. So, I DON’T scream. I just push my emotions way down. Then, occasionally, they break out and I have to cut.

  • Kr

    I’m looking for professional help, have recently been discharged from mental health teams, I’ve been told by four different people I’m self harming and to seek help, which I’m finding difficult to get any help their doesn’t seem to be any help for adults and I get messed around.

  • Sharon Porter

    I am over 60, my children are all very mad at me. I think I have more going on than depression and anxiety. I maybe BPD. I just started hurting myself. I lied to my husband. It’s beyond his comprehendion that I’d be able to do this. My oldest daughter had left an old Facebook open, I realized I could leave messages on it. She had told a friend that she wasn’t ready to reconcile our relationship. She was my best friend for so long. We told each other everything. Although I have two other girls that have cut me out of their lives, she seems to be the one that hurts the most. The reason they cut me out had nothing to do with me, but their dad. He got bit by my youngest daughter’s dog and he called animal control. That’s it. They told him he could never go back to having a family if he did that.
    It’s been almost a year. I feel helpless. Part of me thinks I wanted to be found out. But I lied to my husband so I don’t know. It made me feel like I deserve to be punished.

    • Wedge

      Sounds like you need help and support for your mental health, and sounds like your husband needs to accept that he’s deeply hurt your daughters’ feelings. Even if he feels that he was in the right to call animal control, it sounds like your daughters’ need him to recognise the hurt he’s caused. Can you get professional help for yourself? Can you talk to a counsellor? Perhaps start with your doctor to ask for a referral. Once you have support, you may be able to talk to your husband about what’s going on in your life.

  • Kat

    I cut myself for the first time this year I am 53 and have been in therapy for co-dependence. Why do I feel like this is getting worse?

  • andrew

    I think I. Need help

  • Dave

    I am in my early 40s. People always believe me when I tell them the cat did it. I don’t have a cat.

  • Tim

    This is new for me and I keep having to create more elaborate stories to cover it. People know but no one ever says anything. They just believe my lies.

    I want to stop and understand what the hell is wrong with me. My best friend knows and she is helping me but everyone else believes the lies as it is too easy to hide and no one wants to believe adults have these type of issue.

  • Lacy

    Another thing people don’t realize about adults who cut is that they are usually REALLY good at hiding it. Younger people often get help when they get caught. If you have been doing it and successfully hiding it for 20 years, like me, you know how to keep it hidden. If no one knows, it’s harder to stop.

  • Kathy Russell

    I began to cut myself when I was in my 40s. the feeling of being trapped by obligations, no way out. Bi-polar child , depressed spouse, sole support of family. I sway between suicide and desertion.

  • Laurence

    I want to start self harming as a way to punish as I hate myself so much. I need to do this. I have found myself gathering instrumentsnin preparation. Is this wrong? It feels the right thing to do to help me cope with my life.

  • Mah

    Hi, I self harm to deal with my stress levels. What can I do to control it or stop it

  • Kris

    I went from cutting to drugs, thought that falling in love was the answer. He abused me and I stayed. I was molested at a young age. I am nearly 60 and can’t stop. I am afraid of OVERDOSING or having a heart attack. I hate myself

  • Liz

    I’ve never done it this before
    I feel like I shall do it again

  • Shell

    I have just stumbled across this page. I have self harmed since I was 13/14. I am now over 40.
    I have an amazing GP but find any other help is not very forth coming. It is just me and my GP.
    I do get embarrassed about it and do think I should have grown out of it but I find it’s the only way to deal with things. That and control my food. I got asked today if I was dyslexic, which I am and was told that there could be a link between the two.
    It’s helped me knowing this site exists.

  • Steph

    I have been punching myself for years, and I now realise my father hit me from the age of 6 until 14 when I left home. I am one one fucked up person.

    • Wedge

      You’re not fucked up, you were in a fucked up situation and you created a response to help you deal with the abuse from your father. I hope you can work through these difficult memories now as an adult and adapt – you deserve help and support, and health and happiness.

  • Anon

    Hi I’m a woman in my thirties, and have hurt myself. I am ashamed of it and have had the urge more and more. When I told my doctor she said stay safe and dont do it again. I asked for help and never got it. I now dont know where to turn.

  • Mike

    Al, I am sorry for your situation and how it all went down. Please see that others are here for you and we will believe you/

  • Mike

    I am mid-fifties and I cut to feel better, I am unsure if I really should be doing this. Help me figure this out.

  • Sammy

    I pick my fingernales and cuticles until very sore and bleeding. I do this when deep in thought or watching TV. I’m in my forties, and have been doing this for almost 20 years.

    I’m sure I have PTSD from childhood; I’m depressed and suicidal. I was abused and thrown away as a child. I’ve never gotten help. I have a lot of premenstrual physical disorders.

    I deal with everything on my own, but this is a nightmare life.

  • Ley

    I am in my late 50s. As a youth, as a younger adult, I never cut. It was not until I spent time incarcerated beginning at age 50. The shame kept me from telling anyone else. I kept my cuts hidden and explained them away to others with various rationalizations. The cutting removed the mountains of pain I suffered.
    Now, I have a partner and he suffers from my bouts of cutting. It is unfair to him. The amount of love he has for me should over-ride the pain I feel that I suffer.
    Lifesigns has provided me some calm. I continue to pursue more calm and better methods of dealing with my SI.
    Thank you.

  • Jan

    I am in my 60s. And feel the need to punch and hit myself. i realise it is wrong. And so internalise it most of the time. What can I do? I have been doing this for about 30 years now

  • Linda

    Unfortunately I don’t have a psychiatrist and cannot get referred to the community mental health team due to budget cuts and lack of staff. I recently spent 4 weeks in a mental health hospital and spent a night in a&e. While there I was told that I was attention seeking! I self harm as a way of coping but cannot get any support. It’s very frustrating and I feel that no-one cares.

  • Shannon

    I haven’t cut since I was in my early 30s, the scars have all turned white. I’m over 40 now. I’ve felt the urge once in a great while since then, but resisted it. Alone Saturday night I gave into a wealth of sadness and a depth of loneliness I have never known. I hurt myself, I hurt myself a lot. I was able to sleep.

    The relief has left and shame has replaced it. I’m off to see my psychiatrist, and tell him. I am sure I’ll be managed. I hope that this was an isolated incident and I have not returned to the dark side.

  • Karen

    I have an adult step-daughter (not at home with me) and the family recently found out she has been self harming since she was a teenager. Her secret was safe for many years and was only discovered as she required medical attention. Naturally it came as a shock and difficult to understand as she has great family support, lives in a nice place, has money, does not have the pressures of a job or children and claims she has never been abused in any way but has been diagnosed with a Borderline Personality Disorder since her self harm was noted.

    She refuses to be involved in any program or take meds as they make her feel worse, which is apparently normal with antidepressants in the beginning. We have read much and talked to professionals about the causes of self harm and the triggers that often push a person to self harm. The difficult situation is that when it is discussed, she insists that she is ‘not going to stop’ it, claims its a chemical addition and she likes it although is harming herself more seriously of late.

    She doesn’t seem, to me, to have many of the triggers that push her to self harm, and now that it is open and public knowledge in the family, she is using it to keep us concerned and often jokes about not leaving her alone too long ‘just in case’. She claims she does not want to kill herself or die but hates society and will continue to abuse herself as it helps her deal with the outside world. Naturally we all want what is helpful for her but finding a direction for her to try and cooperate with seems bleak. She has had professional counselling, mental health assessments, several different anti-depressants, family support and assistance but continues to claim she enjoys it too much to give it up. Where does one go from here to help?

  • Al

    I came from a dysfunctional family. I’d see my mum savagely beaten on a regular basis. Then my dad would hit and beat my brothers and I. Pornographic material was everywhere in our house. I was sexually abused from a young age, my oldest brother tried to rape me. My other brother joined in and I was abused for years. As a teenager, I was going through a mini break down. I went to a counsellor – my mum told me “it’s family business, keep it in the family”. I never got help. I self harmed in my teens and eventually stopped. As a yong adult my brother tried to rape me. I ran to my mum and told her, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. She ‘spoke’ to my brother. He told her he felt ashamed… I felt dirty and ashamed. My mum didn’t get me help, didn’t encourage me to go to the Police. Just covered up, like when my dad beat everyone. My mum and I found a recording that had been secretly made of me washing in our bathroom. I tore it to shreds. I’m an adult now, a single Mum and a carer. I’ve started to analyse my past. I self harmed yesterday and shouted at my kids. I hugged them and said sorry. They and my mum have started to support me. I’ve always been ‘the strong one’. I’m always doing everything for everyone else and feel unfulfilled. I won’t do it again. But I understand why I did it. The pain, fear and anxiety I experienced in my child hood resurfaced. I know it’s not my fault. I’m not suicidal, I guess it was a cry for help. It will take me time to recover emotionally but I will get back to me again. I don’t want to go to anyone. I wouldn’t hurt my children or my mum. I need time for me. I have to come to terms with the horrific memories, I have been coping for years with this. I will be fine.

  • Kim

    I selfharm, and Hollyoaks (Ch4) has really upset me. they are making it look like its ok to cut urself to make life better it’s not that simple.

  • Erik

    32 year old male here. Been cutting since I was 16 and my most recent was today. I just seem to implode instead of projecting anger at anyone. I just start getting depressed. I often need stiches for my cust. I want to stop but I don’t know how. It numbs all the other pain I feel inside. I’m afraid if I quit cutting that I’ll feel more of the pain within me!

  • Migs

    I just cut myself. I stopped for 5 or 6 years but started again. Idk what’s wrong with me, I’d rather feel physical pain than deal with ppl bullshit empathy.

  • Mike

    Don’t know why I’m doing it but I’m cutting my hands for what ever reason I’ve been having a really awe full time at work I thought it was getting better but I was wrong I’ve never once thought about it in the past but today I just couldn’t stop hurting myself can’t tell my wife she would probably just be angry at me so here I am I just googled and here I am don’t know how to express my feelings

    • Wedge

      Hello Mike

      You’ve hit the nail on the head — there’s something about expressing feelings that’s integral to self-injury. Many people seek release from overwhelimg (and confusing) feelings through physical pain.

      What’s going on in your life? What’s driving you to feel so bad? Could you talk to your wife about those things, and maybe talk about the cuts to your hands a bit later? While self-injury is confusing, even shocking to many people, your friends and family will want to help you if things are going wrong in your life.

  • sadnesstoday

    I have always had so much pain inside me. I was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused as a child – never fully understanding all the ways this abuse has manifested itself to hurt me as an adult. I started cutting when I was in my 20s to release the pain. I am currently in recovery for heroin addiction (over a year clean now), but my life is still unmanageable, and I am in so much emotional pain I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I am driving myself mad. For the first time in over several years, I cut myself. Now, I feel so ashamed, and scared that my ex, who is also my roommate, will tell everyone. I feel like I have tried everything. I meditate, do yoga, hike, had acupuncture, nuerobiofeedback, hell I even drink sometimes….NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING immediately stops the pain. Its literally a better fix than dope. I know its sick. I know I’m sick. But sometimes I feel like I am not going to survive the swelling of sadness. I have kids, you know? I have responsibilities bigger than me, and I know I can’t just end it all. I just don’t know what else to do sometimes.

  • Helen

    Sometimes, quite simply, there is no way out. Your husband, your parents, your family can love you unconditionally; but there is no way out. You can be told you’re worth a million dollars to your family and friends; but there is no escape. And telling them feels like letting them down. You can see it in their faces, coz they will never understand. Telling your true loved ones hurts the most. Because you know it’s going to hurt them; because you know there is now way out. Because you have no good ‘real’ reason or cause…. and life goes on….

  • Azurephre

    I have been self harming since I was a teen and I’m an adult in my 30s now and have never really stopped, the only difference is now I feel really guilty for doing it.

    I’m married and have children, but self harm is never far from my thoughts. A lot of my scars from my youth are visible, but under my clothes is even worse.

    I’ve given up on trying to get help, partly because I am sick of being given anti-depressants and being told to go away, and partly because I’m so ashamed. I just feel like such a failure for not growing out of this. My husband doesn’t get angry about my self harm like my family did when I was a kid and it’s really confusing to me. He doesn’t blame me, but in the face of that understanding I blame myself more. Sorry if this isn’t an appropriate addition but that’s my experience of self harming as a grown up.

    • Wedge

      Azurephre, have you identified what drives you to self-harm? Something when you were a teenager? Do you still feel all the same feelings as an adult?

      If you’ve been diagnosed with depression then anti-depressants for a time may give you the space you need to get on with your life and improve things for yourself, but sure, anti-ds aren’t always the whole answer. Then again, many people go on and off anti-ds over the years; it may be that your depression will not ‘go away’. I hope you consider depression to be a serious medical issue, worthy of treatment.

      But of course talking therapies can help depression, and further, counselling can help you deal with the underlying causes driving you to self-injure. Could you get on a waiting list for counselling, or could you hire a private therapist right now?

      Do you think it’s normal and right to be angry with sad, ill people, like your family was angry with you? If your child was melancholic or detached for a few days, would you be angry with them? Accept your husband’s care and love without guilt or blame. He supports you, you’re a team.

      I hope you can talk to someone to help untwist your emotions so you can be free of these doubts and pains.

  • Star

    I started self-harming as a child. I haven’t stopped and as an adult. I don’t know that I can stop. I daydream about suicide. I don’t think I have anyone I can really turn to. My husband usually cries or gets angry, and my mother used to scream at me when I was self-harming as a teen. She refused to “put up with it” and would ignore it when she wasn’t yelling. I need the pain. I hurt myself every day. It’s the only thing that helps.

    • Wedge

      Star, what ae you dealing with? What was the underlying cause of your emotional distress as a child, and what drives you to self-injure now as an adult?

      (No need to reply here in public, I’m just asking you to identify the root causes.)

      What can you do to address the cause of your distress? If you don’t know, then can you get into talking therapy for a few months? Talking to a counsellor will help you recognise your emotional triggers and the things you’re unhappy about.

      If you’re so desperatly unhappy that suicide is on your mind then you must take action. Go to the doctor and get a referral to a counsellor. If the waiting list is too long, then just pay for eight weeks of therapy right now. You need help, and your husband and you may need to invest time and money into improving your life and your lives together.

  • M

    I self injured for years, abusing painkillers but mostly cutting. I stopped in my mid thirties but recommenced a year or ago when my relationship broke down, I lost a family member, and stress levels were high at work. Now it’s become regular again almost like I just have to find a reason to do it because I am just very unhappy right now. I just feel I have no control over my life anymore

  • Angie

    I used to self harm when I was a teenager dealing with an abusive mom and dad. I stopped for several years but I started again yesterday to feel that release from inner pain. I did not realize I had hurt myself so badly. I felt a huge release and that scared me. I woke up with a strong desire to do it this morning just for the release. I am middle-aged and don’t want to continue this behavior and I am not sure how to stop.


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