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The reasons why people self-harm are often misunderstood. Reading our factfile will hopefully help you understand why you or someone you care about is doing it, and how to take steps to stop it.

Sometimes a physical pain provides relief to emotional feelings

What is it?

Self-harm is when someone deliberately injures or damages themselves. Often this leaves a mark, a scar, draws blood or leaves a bruise. The most common ways of doing this are cutting, scratching or pricking to draw blood; burning, picking at old wounds, punching or head-banging a wall.

Who does it?

All kinds of people self-harm, but it's most common among 15-19 year olds. It's not known exactly how many people self-harm, as it's often hidden.

Why do they do it?

The reasons people self-harm are often misunderstood. It isn't about attention seeking or wanting to die - but it can be a cry for help.

Most people who self-harm have been through bad experiences in life like bullying, abuse or bad family relationships. It leaves people feeling bad about themselves, and as pressure builds up, self-harm can feel like the only way of dealing with it. Sometimes a physical pain provides relief to emotional feelings.

Some people may want to punish themselves because they feel guilty or worthless. Or that the harming acts like a pressure valve, allowing them to relax.

Self-harmers usually want to stop, but don't know how else to cope. They may not know how to express emotions, or perhaps there is a belief that they're bad and deserve to be punished.

What should I do if I self-harm?

You don't have to keep it secret or let it rule your life. Talk to someone today. Start with your GP or one of the organisations on the panel on the right. Even a friend or a teacher. The most important thing is that you tell someone, so you can start to get better.

In the meantime, try doing something else when you get the urge to harm. Get outside and do something different, or reach out to someone to take your mind off it. Learn to spot when the pressure is building up. Understand that everyone has times like this and that you deserve a gentler way of dealing with it.

Install a punch bag. Beat up a pillow. Squeezing an ice-cube or flicking an elastic band works for many people.

What if one of my friends self-harms?

The most important thing is to be accepting and not judgemental. Offer to listen if they want to talk, and gently try to persuade them to get professional help and not to keep it secret.

But remember, it's not your fault if they harm and you mustn't feel guilty if they carry on.

Don't join in. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Self-harming is good for nobody and the marks last forever.

Why I started to cut - one girl tells her self harm story

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.