BACKGROUND: Economic recessions are associated with increases in suicide rates but there is little information for non-fatal self-harm. AIMS: To investigate the impact of the recent recession on rates of self-harm in England and problems faced by patients who self-harm. METHOD: Analysis of data from the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England for 2001-2010 and local employment statistics for Oxford, Manchester and Derby, including interrupted time series analyses to estimate the effect of the recession on rates of self-harm. RESULTS: Rates of self-harm increased in both genders in Derby and in males in Manchester in 2008-2010, but not in either gender in Oxford, results which largely followed changes in general population unemployment. More patients who self-harm were unemployed in 2008-10 compared to before the recession. The proportion in receipt of sickness or disability allowances decreased. More patients of both genders had employment and financial problems in 2008-2010 and more females also had housing problems, changes which were also largely found in employed patients. LIMITATIONS: We have assumed that the recession began in 2008 and information on problems was only available for patients having a psychosocial assessment. CONCLUSIONS: Increased rates of self-harm were found in areas where there were greater rises in rates of unemployment. Work, financial and housing problems increased in people who self-harmed. Changes in welfare benefits may have contributed. DECLARATION OF INTEREST: None.