COVID-19: Self-harm in young people

Disclaimer: This resource provides information, not advice. Please read the full disclaimer at the end of this resource.

The outbreak of COVID-19, lockdown and self-isolation have created a lot of additional pressures on parents and their children. Like adults, children and young people might feel concerned or upset by the news, or by things they hear or read about COVID-19. They might feel isolated, lonely, angry or depressed about the future. Some may express these feelings by engaging in self-destructive behaviours, such as self-harm.

If you are worried that your child might start to self-harm or is already self-harming, or that they seem upset, withdrawn or irritable, it is important to know that you can still get the right support and help during the pandemic. We know that, with the right support, many young people can be helped to stop self-harming.

You can find more information for parents and carers on self-harm in young people in a resource available on the College’s website. This explains what self-harm is and contains advice for carers on how to support children and adolescents who are self-harming. It also lists coping techniques.  

Services are still there to support you and your family during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • If you notice any physical injuries on your child, such as deep cuts or burns, then you need to contact NHS 111, your GP or local crisis line for advice 
  • If your child has taken an overdose or needs urgent medical help, call 999 or take them to the nearest A&E
  • If you are not sure what to do, you can call NHS 111, the YoungMinds Parents Helpline on 0808 802 5544 (9.30am to 4pm on weekdays) or the Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone) or email them at jo@samaritans.org

You can also call:


Additionally, there are the following helplines in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland:

Wales:

The Welsh government mental health advice line (C.A.L.L) – 0800 132 737

Call the Samaritans Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7:00pm–11:00pm each day).

Scotland:

Breathing Space – 0800 83 85 87 (freephone)

Northern Ireland:

Lifeline – 0808 808 8000 (freephone)

If you are currently being supported by a child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) team, you can talk to them if you are worried about your child. 

Talk to your child. Ask if anything is worrying them and how they are feeling. They may be struggling with fears about the virus itself as well as struggling to cope with being in lockdown or self-isolation. Show that you are prepared to listen to what your child has to say and that their emotions are real and important to you. They may miss seeing their friends and family on a regular basis, and doing what they normally do – outdoor classes or exercise, or their after-school activities. Remind them that this situation is temporary and that they will be able to go back to their normal life when it is safe to do so again. Let your child know you are not judging them and they you don’t think less of them. Remind them that you love them and that this will not change. 

Return to the topic at a later time. If they don’t want to talk now, see if they will feel more able to talk later on, or if they would prefer to write you a note, email or text about how they feel. 

 

Suggest talking about it with someone else. Try to come up with some options together for who they might want to talk to, like calling a helpline, making a GP appointment (this might be a telephone or video call), or finding online support.

Help them to find ways to handle strong feelings that don’t involve self-harm. Work out with your child what activities they can do at home that take away the urge to self-harm, as well as how to make it more difficult for them to self-harm, like storing medication securely and removing sharp objects. Write down things that help them in a list or a plan so you can help them to refer to it when they need to. 

 

Ensure they keep in touch with their friends and family. It’s important for children and young people to keep connected to their friends, family members and classmates during COVID-19. They may do so safely by telephone, chats or video calls. 

Set limits on the amount of COVID-19 information that is discussed at home. Talking about COVID-19 might be making children and young people feel more anxious and worried, so it’s important to balance the news with discussions about other topics.

Encourage them to think about what they might look forward to. The current uncertainty around COVID-19 may make your child feel like they might be stuck at home forever or that things will never go back to normal. Be honest with them about how long we might be in isolation, but also help them to think about what they might enjoy doing in the future, or what plans they might want to make for when the lockdown ends.

Balance their online time with real-world activities. Young people might be spending more time online or on social media as a result of COVID-19 isolation, so make sure you set a family routine that includes other activities, such as exercising outside once a day (following the government’s advice on social distancing), playing board games or learning new skills. 

Give back to the community. Connect virtually with neighbours or relatives who might be struggling during the pandemic. Find ways to help them while following government guidelines on how to help others safely.

There are many ways carers can support children and adolescents who self-harm; see the College’s information for parents and carers on self-harm in young people for more ideas.

The National Self Harm Network has a further list of distractions that can help which people might find useful.
Remember that as a parent or carer, you also need to look after your own mental health and wellbeing. If you need to talk to someone about your own feelings, then your GP, parent helplines or online services can provide support (see the Useful Resources section). 

Childline: 0800 1111; Information on self-harm

Samaritans: 116 123 (free)

Calm Harm: A free app designed to help people manage feelings of self-harm

Coping with self-harm: a guide for parents and carers about how to cope when a young person is self-harming

Harmless: a national voluntary organisation supporting people who self-harm

MIND:

Young Minds:

 

 

Disclaimer

This resource provides information, not advice.  

The content in this resource is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not, amount to advice which you should rely on. It is not in any way an alternative to specific advice.  You must therefore obtain the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the information in this resource.

If you have questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay.  

If you think you are experiencing any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.  

Although we make reasonable efforts to compile accurate information in our resources and to update the information in our resources, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in this resource is accurate, complete or up to date.