How to help people who self-harm

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Health Assured team

29 September 2022

Self-harm refers to the act of intentionally harming yourself or injuring your body. People who self-harm often do so as a way of dealing with difficult emotions. There are a lot of misconceptions about self-harm that make it hard for many people to open up. That’s why it’s important we learn about the signs of self-harm and the reasons people do it.

Self-harm can occur in many forms. These include:

  • Cutting, scratching, biting, picking, or burning skin
  • Hitting yourself or other objects
  • Over or undereating
  • Overexercising
  • Hair pulling
  • Misusing alcohol or drugs

Why do people self-harm?

There are many reasons people self-harm; these reasons might also change over time. People who self-harm have reported that they have done so to:

  • Cope with overwhelming emotions
  • Punish themselves for mistakes
  • Find relief from feelings
  • Escape traumatic memories
  • Express difficult emotions to others
  • Gain a sense of control
  • Detach from problems or reality

Self-harm might provide a temporary release, but afterwards, it can often lead to a cycle of shame and guilt that makes people feel worse in the long run.

Many triggers might lead someone to self-harm. Common reasons include:

What are the signs?

Many people hide self-harm for fear of feeling misunderstood; there can also be a lot of shame associated with it. But you can often sense when something is wrong—either within yourself or someone you know. 

Some of the signs of self-harm include:

  • Mood changes
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Becoming distant in relationships
  • Impulsivity
  • Low self-esteem
  • Bruising, scratches or cuts

Tips for dealing with self-harm 

If you are currently self-harming, know that you’re not alone. There are many other people out there that know exactly what you’re going through. It might not feel like it right now, but this won’t last forever.  

If you’re supporting someone with self-harm, try to be non-judgmental and provide a safe space for the person to turn to when they need it.

Whether you’re the one dealing with self-harm or you’re looking for tips to support someone you love, the below points might be helpful to you. Obviously, there is no one solution and healing from self-harm is a process that takes time. But that process begins with one small step.

Distraction techniques 

Some people find that distraction techniques can help relieve the urge to self-harm. Once that urge has passed so does the intent and you might find your feelings are more manageable.

  • Write down the distressing thoughts and feelings
  • Do something creative
  • Go for a walk in a green space
  • Do some form of vigorous exercise
  • Listen to music you enjoy

Try the five-minute rule 

If you feel the urge to self-harm, wait five minutes before you do so. Then try waiting for another 5. You might just find that by this time the intense emotions have dissipated, and you no longer feel those urges.

Make a safety plan

Lay out a concrete plan that you will turn to if you find yourself leaning towards self-harming. You could write down the names of people you can turn to or call, places that make you feel calm or techniques that have worked for you in the past.

Build your self-esteem

Working on how you perceive yourself and speak to yourself will make a big difference in how you deal with emotions. You can start to improve this by writing down your good qualities and speaking to yourself in the same way you would with someone you love. Be assertive where you can, and remind yourself that you want to make choices that feel good for you.


Health Assured are here to support you 

If you’re struggling with self-harm or you're worried about someone you know, then we’re here to help. Get in touch with us via the helpline or app— our counsellors can support you.

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