Omar, Childline counsellor, answering a call from a worried child about the coronavirus pandemic

Self-harm: through the eyes of a Childline counsellor

Omar has been answering Childline calls during the coronavirus pandemic, and helping young people struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

"Lockdown has made every child vulnerable"

"Isolation in itself, it can be seen as a torture. And I think it has been a torture for most, not just children, but also adults as well. It can amplify feeling alone, feeling that no one cares for them.

"All children are now vulnerable, not just the ones that were already on the vulnerable list, not just the ones that were already at people's attention."

And I think that as the months go on, you're going to find that new degrees of problems start to surface, problems that weren't there before."

Our Childline service is there to give young people a voice when no one's listening.

"Self-harm is a coping mechanism that children use"

"In that moment in time, it's something that they have control over. Some hope that it would make them feel better in that particular situation. It can be a response to a situation that's taken place for them in their day, not being able to cope, possibly seeing it as a way of release. 

Does a child necessarily feel that is control? Maybe. You ask one child, you ask another child, it may be a different. From my conversations with young people, it's not something that they want to do. In some cases, it's because they don’t feel other coping techniques work for them.


If a person has called up and they're self-harming, I'll start by checking in on how they are. So where they've cut, how deep the cut is, whether they cleaned themselves up. I'll alert my supervisor that the caller might be at risk, and then we'll go through exploring what it is that's brought them to harming themselves on that particular day.

"Because 9 times out of 10, when kids call up and if they've harmed themselves or they're attempting suicide, that isn't what they want to speak about. They want to speak about what's actually brought them to that point."

They may start off and say, ‘I've been trying to cut’ or, ‘I've been trying to stop cutting, and I've gone back to it.’ And so I would be exploring, why have you? What's led you back there today?

And then the conversation begins. ‘I've had an argument with my best friend, she's told me that she doesn't like me’ or ‘Girls are bullying me, I'm worried about going back to school, I'm anxious. So I started to cut.’ It's very rare that cutting is the issue. The issue is something else.

"It's all about coping mechanisms, and finding what coping mechanism for them is going to help them move forward."

A breach is what we call it when a young person is at serious risk of harm to themselves or someone else. 

We break confidentiality at these moments. We'll find out where the young person is, and speak to a Childline supervisor. The supervisor will assess the situation and see how at risk that person is. Then we'll call out the relevant authorities, and get them there. But we'll also keep the young person on the line at the same time to try and deescalate the situation, but also to check that they're still safe and to check that they haven't moved the position from where they are."

"No child should be left to cope alone"

"Children are able to call Childline and to actually be honest, because that's the one place they can say, right, this is what I've done. I don't think that there's anywhere else in their life where they're able to admit that and know that there is no judgment levied at them. There's no criticism levied at them."

"There isn't another service where they're going to get that, like it or not there isn't another service. Nowhere else is Childline."

"They know that someone's going to hear them and hear where they're at and respect where they're at. When I have spoken to children that have harmed, I always thank them. I thank them for being honest, because I think it takes a lot to display and show that honesty, especially if elsewhere in their life, they're covering that up."

Counsellors like Omar need your help to be here, for every child.

Signs of self-harm in children and teenagers

It can be hard to recognise the signs of self-harm in children and teenagers, but it’s important to trust your instincts if you’re worried something’s wrong.

Signs to look out for can include:  

    • covering up, for example by wearing long sleeves a lot of the time, especially in summer
    • unexplained bruises, cuts, burns or bite-marks on their body
    • blood stains on clothing, or finding tissues with blood in their room
    • becoming withdrawn and spending a lot of time alone in their room
    • avoiding friends and family and being at home
    • feeling down, low self-esteem or blaming themselves for things
    • outbursts of anger, or risky behaviour like drinking or taking drugs.

Being worried about a child who’s self-harming can be really difficultWe've got more advice to help you understand why children and teenagers self-harm, and what you can do to support them.

Worried about a child?

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