Self Harm

When young people inflict pain on themselves it is usually a way of telling us that something is wrong, and can often be linked to depression and anxiety.

The majority of children and young people who self harm have no intention of ending their lives. Self harm includes things like cutting, scratching, hair pulling, bruising, over-dosing, poisoning, and burning. It can be very difficult for family and friends to understand that these behaviours are often a way for releasing difficult emotions and feelings that can temporarily relieve tension.

Self harm can be very dangerous and can leave long term damage so we take it very seriously and ensure we support young people physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) provide help for children and young people who may be experiencing problems with their emotional or psychological wellbeing.

How can I help my child?

It can be very upsetting when someone you care about self-harms. It is really important to listen to them without being critical or judgemental. Even if you feel upset or angry with them, try to think about them, rather than your own feelings.


  • Listen to them if they tell you they want to self-harm. Try to understand how they are feeling. Maybe try to move the conversation gently on to something else
  • Help them find good information about self-harm. There are leaflets available, e.g. from the RCPsych website, or your local library
  • Support them in getting help, if that’s what they want
  • Self-harm shouldn’t be seen as a dirty secret. Help them to see it as a problem that needs sorting out


  • Expect them to stop overnight. It’s hard to stop self-harming
  • Try to give them ‘therapy’ yourself. They need you as a parent, friend, teacher…
  • Express your emotions too strongly. Let them know how you are feeling, but keep things calm. You getting upset or angry will make things worse
  • Physically try to stop them self-harming. Offer them space to talk, but you may need to walk away
  • Make them promise not to do it again
  • Say that you won’t see them unless they stop self-harming
  • Feel responsible. You are not responsible for someone else self-harming, and you cannot take responsibility for them stopping. You may need support yourself to help you cope with the situation

Please check out the links on this webpage for help and advice as to how you can help your child if you are worried about them self harming.

How can we help?

When a child or young person is admitted to the Paediatric Ward via A&E following an incident of self harm, or suspected self harm, a member of the CAMHS team will visit to assess the level of risk. They will formulate a robust plan with the parents/carers and the child or young person.

In the vast majority of cases this plan will be for the child or young person to return home with an appropriate package of care. There are occasionally a small number of cases where the child or young person needs to remain on the ward while further psychiatric assessment is completed. Follow up will always be provided and this will be dependant on the identified needs. It may be as simple as a follow up phone call or a comprehensive package of therapy for the child or young person and their parents/carers.

They may be referred straight into CAMHS with serious concerns about self harm. For example, if your GP is very worried but the child or person did not go to A&E. The assessment will be the same as above, but in our community buildings rather than the hospital. This will take place within 7 days, after which a plan will be agreed with follow up appointments as needed.

What happens next?

Following an admission on to the Paediatric Ward the young person will be assessed by CAMHS on the next working day. The assessment length will vary depending on the needs identified during the discussion, however usually it will take approximately 2 hours.

Once the request for service from CAMHS has been accepted the young person will be offered an initial assessment either urgently (within 7 days) or within 6 weeks. This initial appointment is an opportunity for them to tell us about the difficulties and together we can assess what we might need to do next. Sometimes a single appointment is all that is needed but if you do need a series of appointments we will assign a clinician with the appropriate skills and work in partnership with you. Sometimes more specialist intervention is needed and we will discuss this with you so that you are clear about what happens next.

Follow up appointments should be offered within 12 weeks of referral.

Self referral

You can now self-refer your child into this service. For more information please view this guide on how to self refer.

For details of what the service supports and what supporting documentation you require for your referral, please view the request criteria page.

What is the process?

Location of Centres

We will arrange to see you at a location convenient to you or near to your home, which may or may not be listed below. You should not visit the locations below unless we have sent you an appointment and requested that you do. If you need help please contact us using the number on this page.

Young People: 24/7 support:
If you are under 18, you can contact Torbay and Devon Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for mental health support and advice:

03300 245 321 between 8am-5pm

0300 555 5000 out of hours

First response: 24/7 helpline

If you are experiencing mental health distress or worries about someone else’s emotional state- support is available from our First Response Service:

0808 196 8708

Kooth, Digital Support

Online mental wellbeing community. Safe, anonymous support free to people under 18:

Urgent Help: 24/7 support:

If you are at risk of causing harm to yourself, call:


Childline 0800 1111

Samaritans 24/7  on 116 123


Children and Family Health Devon

Single Point of Access Team
1a Capital Court
Bittern Road
Sowton Industrial Estate
Exeter EX2 7FW

t: 0330 0245 321