Suicide & Self Harm by children & young people – advice for practitioners & parents

Any child or young person who self-harms or expresses thoughts about this or about suicide must be taken seriously and appropriate help and intervention should be offered at the earliest point.

Any practitioner, who is made aware that a child or young person has self-harmed, or is contemplating this or suicide, should talk with the child or young person without delay.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, or are concerned for a young person who might be you can contact HOPELINE UK for confidential support and practical advice:

What is self-harm
Self-harm is any behaviour such as self cutting, swallowing objects, taking an overdose, self strangulation or running in front of a car where the intent is deliberately to cause self-harm. Some people who self-harm can have a strong desire to kill themselves.

Why do children and young people self-harm?
Children and young people may self-harm for a variety of reasons such as:

Who to contact or signpost to:

Help and advice for parents

Understanding Young Minds – free resource pack
It is thought that thousands of children and young people in the UK are impacted by self-harm each year, with countless others likely to be suffering in silence.

To help parents understand the scale of self-harm and raise awareness of the issue, the Virtual College have created the Self-harm awareness resource pack – Understanding Young Minds which is available on their website at  The pack includes an Understanding Young Minds poster and infographic.

Understanding Young Minds – free online course
Virtual College have worked in partnership with SelfharmUK to create a free online course designed to help parents talk about the issue of self-harm with their children.

Signs of self-harm

There may be a change in behaviour of the child or young person that is associated with self-harm such as:

  • mood swings
  • becoming withdrawn and isolation from family and friends
  • change in eating and sleeping habits
  • poor attendance at school and lowering of grades
  • abusing drugs or alcohol.

Examples of self-harm include:

  • cutting
  • scratching
  • taking an overdose
  • swallowing hazardous substances
  • burning
  • over or under medicating
  • punching, hitting, bruising
  • over or under eating
  • risky sexual behaviour.

GM Practice Guidance for the management of self-harm by children & young people

The GM practice guidance for the management of self-harm by children and young people is designed to promote a multi-agency response to issues of self-harm in children and young people, with advice about how to facilitate support and intervention according to the level of need and associated risk.

We need to talk about suicide e-learning programme

We need to talk about suicide: helping everyone to feel more confident to talk about suicide is an e-learning programme that has been developed for the wider workforce including the voluntary sector, blue light services, prison staff, health and social care. It was developed by a range of experts – including experts by experience i.e. those people who have attempted to take their own lives and those bereaved and affected by suicide.

Two-thirds of people who take their own lives are not known to mental health services. Almost everyone thinking about suicide doesn’t want to stop living they just want to stop the pain and distress they are feeling. Talking about suicide does not make someone more likely to take their own lives. Another person showing compassion and care can only make things better not worse.

The programme takes approximately between 60-90 minutes to complete.

How the programme may be used:

  • as an introduction to suicide awareness and suicide prevention skills
  • to consolidate existing skills on suicide prevention
  • as part of an organisation’s induction process, reflecting a commitment to reducing death by suicide
  • for personal and professional development.

Proposed target audience:

  • non-mental health practitioners
  • anyone working with the public across a wide range of settings
  • anyone in a volunteering role with contact with the public
  • administrative and support staff in health and care across a range of settings such as primary care, acute and supported living settings
  • administrative and support staff in other public sector settings such as local authorities and the voluntary sector
  • public health/health promotion staff across all sectors including local authorities, NHS and primary care.

The learning is specifically aimed at making sure that everyone in contact with the public, in whatever role, knows how to spot any signs of mental distress and feel comfortable in talking about suicide.

Talking about suicide can be used as a normal part of all our interactions at home, in the workplace and in the wider community.

Suicide prevention and support

If you are worried about someone, further advice and signposting resources can be found from:

Other organisations that can provide advice and support include:

Young Minds
Young Minds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people and campaign, research and influence policy and practice.

Mind provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem and campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

Barnardo’s services work with children and young people who have mental health difficulties; they also work with their parents, making sure that parents feel supported.

Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP)
The RCP have produced information for anyone who wants to know more about self-harm, particularly anyone who is harming themselves, or feels that they might; they hope it will also be helpful for friends and families.

Research data

Manchester University Centre for Suicide Prevention
The Centre for Suicide Prevention is a leading UK centre for research into suicidal behaviour. It embraces two major long-term research programmes – both provide crucial evidence to support service and training improvements that increase patient safety, reduce risk and save lives.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has produced a useful visual article outlining who is most at risk of suicide.

Downloads available on this page:


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