This guideline follows on from Self-harm: the short-term physical and psychological management and secondary prevention of self-harm in primary and secondary care (NICE clinical guideline 16), which covered the treatment of self-harm within the first 48 hours of an incident. This guideline is concerned with the longer-term psychological treatment and management of both single and recurrent episodes of self-harm, and does not include recommendations for the physical treatment of self-harm or for psychosocial management in emergency departments (these can be found in NICE clinical guideline 16).

The term self-harm is used in this guideline to refer to any act of self-poisoning or self-injury carried out by an individual irrespective of motivation. This commonly involves self-poisoning with medication or self-injury by cutting. There are several important exclusions that this term is not intended to cover. These include harm to the self arising from excessive consumption of alcohol or recreational drugs, or from starvation arising from anorexia nervosa, or accidental harm to oneself.

Self-harm is common, especially among younger people. A survey of young people aged 15–16 years estimated that more than 10% of girls and more than 3% of boys had self-harmed in the previous year. For all age groups, annual prevalence is approximately 0.5%. Self-harm increases the likelihood that the person will eventually die by suicide by between 50- and 100-fold above the rest of the population in a 12-month period. A wide range of psychiatric problems, such as borderline personality disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and drug and alcohol-use disorders, are associated with self-harm.

Self-harm is often managed in secondary care – this includes hospital medical care and mental health services. About half of the people who present to an emergency department after an incident of self-harm are assessed by a mental health professional.

People who self-harm also have contact with primary care. About half of the people who attend an emergency department after an incident of self-harm will have visited their GP in the previous month. A similar proportion will visit their GP within 2 months of attending an emergency department after an incident of self-harm.

The guideline is relevant to all people aged 8 years and older who self-harm, and it addresses all health and social care professionals who come into contact with them. Where it refers to children and young people, this applies to all people who are between 8 and 17 years inclusive.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)