5 common myths about self-harm

Uncategorized Jan 25, 2022

There are a lot of myths about children and teen’s self-harming in the media that need correcting. Some of these myths cause parents even more fear and alarm and are more than unhelpful.

Knowing the differences between what is true and not true will help you better understand why your child is self-harming and how you can better support their recovery.

Self-harm always leads to suicide 

The most frightening thing for a parent is the thought that your child could be thinking about ending their life. The assumption that self-injury always leads to suicide is NOT TRUE.

Self-harm is actually a way of coping with emotional stress and the way your child seeks some sort of relief from how they’re currently feeling. 

Examples of things that could be behind your child’s self-harm are include: 

They may feel lonely

Underlying mental health condition

Low body confidence

And many more everyday stressors


Pressure at school

Unrealistic expectations of themselves

Problems with friends

…just a few examples and there are obviously many more.

In most cases, self-injury is used as a way to cope with life, not to end it, 

That said, it is true that children/adolescents who self-harm, are more likely to become suicidal. What does this mean for your child? Only a small percentage of young people who self-harm become suicidal, but we always encourage parents to be aware and seek professional help if they’re concerned that their child’s mental or emotional state seriously deteriates.

Self-harm is mostly a ‘girl thing’

The media coverage of self-harm usually highlights girls as the ones affected. But research shows that this is not the case and many boys self-injure too. The truth is, self-harm in boys is much more easily missed or easily overlooked as ‘boys being boys’. 

Boys self-injure themselves differently to girls, through hitting walls or smashing things resulting more commonly in hand injuries that do not stand out or are written off as ‘boisterous’ teenage boys.

It is important to remember that self-harm affects anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Self-harming always means you have a mental illness

Self-harm is NOT an illness, but a coping mechanism for overwhelming emotions and stress. While it’s possible your child could have an underlying mental health condition; this is not the case for everyone and can be from the stresses in their life.. 

Does your child need a mental health diagnosis? Often not. A label is not needed for self-injury because it can be your child's chosen response to emotional distress, not a mental health disorder.

Self-harming is ‘attention seeking’

Why would your child go to such lengths to hide their self-harming if they were seeking attention? Self-harming is mostly not attention seeking behaviour. Most young people keep it a secret, or are fearful of being discovered and or go to great lengths to hide it. 

It’s common for young people to self-harm in places that aren’t outwardly noticeable on their bodies, such as thighs and stomach. This makes it difficult as a parent to spot the injuries or the extent of the injuries. 

The additional stress that comes from the need to hide self-inflicted injury often adds to the stress of your child’s situation and the pressure they’re under.

Here are a few pointers that may suggest your child is attempting to hide their self-harming from you:

  • They refrain from physical activities, such as swimming, where they need to get undressed
  • They avoiding short sleeves clothes, shorts and such
  • They have changes in their sleeping and eating
  • They have injuries that they can’t or don’t want to explain
  • They are hiding dangerous objects

Only a professional mental health expert, can help your self-harming child 

Your child’s self-harming is likely to feel overwhelming and something you're not prepared to assist with in any way. That's totally understandable. But most healthcare professionals recommend that a child’s recovery is greatly assisted when an educated and informed parent is able to support them. 

Don’t worry if you have no idea where to start. The Youth Mental Health Foundation’s free online course will give you guidance to step up and support your child: Click here to find out more. 

Lastly, opening up to a stranger about self-injury can be daunting for a young person. Some prefer support from those closest to them instead. With the wait times for getting professional help for your child getting longer and longer, it’s worth learning how you can step-up for your child yourself. 

What effect can these myths have?

The pervading myths about self-harm in the media often contribute to young people feeling scared and guilty about their self-injuring. The more you learn and understand about self-harm the better you’ll be able to support your own child. 


We will be publishing an article on ‘Why young people self-harm’  in our blog very soon. This will give you a better understanding about the cycle of self-harm and how this can make it difficult for your teen to stop – so watch this space.

P.S. Make sure you CHECK OUT the FREE resources we got available for parents of self-harming tweens and teens here:

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BOOKLET and learn how a mother led her self-harming teenage child back to health & happiness: www.YouthMentalHealthFoundation.org/e-book 

SIGN-UP FOR OUR FREE ONLINE COURSE where we coach you to play a key role supporting your child’s healing & recovery; their journey back to health and happiness: www.youthmentalhealthfoundation.org/onlinecourse 


Research and Community Executive
Youth Mental Health Foundation CIC



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