Self harm

Self-harm is defined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as ‘intentional self-poisoning or injury, irrespective of the apparent purpose’. Our interpretation includes physical and psychological injury and would include any behaviour that serves a function of adversely affecting a person’s psychological or physical health.

Self-harm is complex though and each person affected by it will have their own definition of what self-harm is. For this reason, our vision is for people who have self-harmed, or are thinking of self-harm, however they themselves define it, to receive compassionate, recovery-focused support, without fear of stigma or discrimination.

We committed funding of £1.5m between 2021 and 2024 to support new services to provide bespoke self-harm support through Self-Harm Network Scotland, delivered by Penumbra. The evaluation has shown a positive reduction in incidence of self-harm as a result. We have therefore committed a further £1.5m for 2024 to 2026 to continue this support.

Self-harm strategy and action plan 2023 to 2027

We published a dedicated Self-harm strategy and action plan, in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) on 28 November 2023.

Our work to develop the strategy and action plan has been guided by a set of principles which we will continue to use as we deliver the action plan. The principles commit us to:

  • fully involving people with lived experience of self-harm
  • using data and evidence
  • taking a compassionate and non-judgemental approach
  • considering the particular needs of children and young people
  • considering people from marginalised communities, including equality groups
  • working in an open way and show what difference we are making

We, together with COSLA, developed the strategy through co-production with people with lived experience of self-harm, and staff working in organisations who support them.

This work follows our 2011 report on self-harm and subsequent Samaritans’ Hidden Too Long Report, which called for a dedicated self-harm strategy, with a particular focus on higher risk groups.

Self-Harm Network Scotland

The funded services through Self-Harm Network Scotland includes a national webchat service offering people help out-of-hours. The webchat also provides up-to-date, reliable and accessible advice for anyone affected by self-harm. It also offers free training sessions, either in person or online. These were completed by 1000 people during 2023.


We set up a Self-Harm Strategy design group to help shape the development of the strategy. This was made up of people with lived experience of self-harm, and insights from services that support them.

We also set-up a Self-Harm Data and Evidence Group to ensure the development of the strategy and action plan was informed by the best available data and evidence. This group was made up of leading academics, working alongside public health professionals, analysts and researchers working in the field.

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