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Cutting and Self Harm: We Can Help

Teen sitting against a wall, upset

​Our toll-free Boys Town National Hotline, 1-800-448-3000, serves as a crisis helpline for people all over the country. Each year, our highly trained counselors answer more than 125,000 calls from people with problems ranging from depression and drugs to anger and abuse. Through YourLifeYou​, our counselors also respond to more than 30,000 emails, chats, and texts yearly.

Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of communications regarding self-harm behaviors. In 2007, the Hotline received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-harm. In 2018, that number more than doubled to just over 1400. 

The Hotline assists thousands of individuals each year who are in crisis due to relationships or mental health issues, and for whom self-harm is the secondary focus.   Just over 4600 of those assessed for suicide risk also reported to the Hotline counselor that they had harmed themselves.

  • 2/3 of self-harm contacts are 18 and younger
  • 15 percent of self-harm contacts are between 19 and 23 
  • 85 percent of self-harm contacts are female 
  • females who are 23 or younger make up 86 percent of all self-harm contacts

It is important to understand that the act of self-harming is not necessarily a suicide attempt. Typically, people intentionally injure themselves as a way to cope with other crises in their lives.  

While self-harm often provides quick relief when difficult emotions arise, it doesn't result in long term relief.   As a result, teens and young adults need to find more effective ways to deal their emotional pain. One way is to call our Hotline because someone is always there to offer support and to help determine the need for possible ongoing assistance.

How do Hotline counselors help those who self-harm to cope in more positive ways?

  • They praise them for taking the first step and talking about their issues, and will work to de-escalate any immediate crisis. 
  • Current safety issues are assessed:  Has the caller already self-harmed? Does he or she need medical attention?
  • Counselors then help the individual to identify the feelings and triggers that are causing their urges to self-arm.
  • The next step is to find alternative coping skills to replace self-harming behaviors.  Some effective strategies could include journaling, relaxation techniques, or engaging in distractions like physical, creative, or entertaining activities. The main focus is to determine what works best for that person. 

What other strategies can be used to help prevent self-harm behaviors? 

  • Remove all objects that might be used to self-harm (razors, knives, lighters, etc.). 
  • Identify an emotional support system of at least two people to reach out to when the urge to self-harm arises.
  • Create a list of at least 10 things to do instead of self-harm. 
  • Look at the tips and tools for preventing self-harm on the Hotline's teen website:

The challenge is to help individuals understand that it is normal for everyone to feel sad, angry, scared, and frustrated at different times.  These emotions and urges that lead to self-harm often feel like a wave that increases in intensity before it decreases and disappears altogether. Ultimately, the goal is to learn to manage these emotions in a safe and healthy way that will result in long lasting relief for life's problems.

If you need help with self-harm and cutting, or know someone who does, call the Boys Town National Hotline toll free at 1-800-448-3000.  We also offer referrals to local programs that help people with self-harm issues and can provide information on treatment options.