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Give Help for Self-Harm

For Family & Friends - how to Give Help to someone who self-harms

If you're concerned that someone in your life may be self-harming, the first step to helping them is to understand a little bit about Self-harm and why people might do it.

Self-Harm is used to cope with pain.  It does not indicate a person is suicidal, but it can be a risk indicator that a person may feel suicidal now or may do so in the future. 

Understanding Self-Harm - why do people self-harm?

Self-harm may be used as a way to cope with negative experiences or situations and the pain or strong feelings associated with them such as: bereavement, relationship breakdown, problems with family, school or peer groups; being bullied; experience of abuse or having serious illness or disability that affects self-esteem or the aftermath of a traumatic incident within the family or close group.   

It is often associated with a sense of guilt, depression, low self-esteem or self-hatred along with a tendency to isolate oneself from others.  Self harm may be used to:

  • Express difficult or hidden feelings 
  • Communicate a need for support 
  • Prove to others that you are not invisible 
  • Provide a feeling of control 
  • Bring an immediate but very temporary sense of relief 

Self-harm is a way of coping with overwhelming & negative emotions & feelings. It can develop into a dangerous, addictive habit.  It can cause permanent damage to the body if nerves are damaged and can even result in death.  

Know the Signs - Warning Signs of Self-Harm

Although self-harm is a very private act, there can be signs and indicators that someone in your life is self-harming and so it's useful to know what to look out for.

Most common targets of self-injury are arms, legs & torso but any area of the body may be targeted.  Given the secrecy of the behaviour, it can be difficult to spot signs & symptoms of self-harm in others and they may be “explained away” by everyday occurrences such as burns or cat scratches.  But look out for:

  • Unexplained scars, fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, or broken bones 
  • Interfering with wound healing 
  • Keeping sharp objects to hand 
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather 
  • Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps 
  • Spending a lot of time alone 
  • Relationship troubles 
  • Emotional instability: low mood, anger, frustration, difficulty sleeping, impulsivity 
  • Self-loathing and low self-esteem; feeling not good enough  

Give Help - Know the Words: how to approach some you are concerned about

If you believe a friend or loved one is self-harming, you may initially be shocked & scared. If you don't have any experience of self-harm, it can be difficult to understand. You may be shocked or feel other emotions.  But whatever you are feeling yourself, it is important to approach them with care & understanding as they may feel deep shame, guilt, confusion and worry about their behaviour.   

Stay calm.  Don’t raise your voice or tell them to stop, as this can result in them becoming even more secretive.  Self-Harm is their safety net and they will need to have another coping skill to replace this harmful one before they can successfully stop hurting themselves.   

Ask them what is going on and how you can help them. They may not feel comfortable talking to you and may not wish to discuss their self-harm with you, but if this is the case, you can encourage them to talk with their GP or find a counsellor.   

They may prefer to call or text an anonymous helpline as their first step.  You may even wish to speak to a helpline to get advice before you approach the topic.  

  • Call the Samaritans Helpline Freephone 116 123 
  • Call Pieta on 1800 247 247 
  • Text 3Ts to 50808 for Crisis Support if you / they prefer to use text

Remember, self-harm is more prevalent than you might think. Their family GP will have experience with this issue and is well placed to help and can provide an initial evaluation or a referral to a specialist. 

Useful Resources

  • Self Help Brochures on Self Harm & related topics – available to download read or listen to audio: many of us struggle with mental health issues but don’t have direct access to therapy or key information which could help. To fill this gap, 3Ts series of self-help booklets covers a range of topics to serve as a ‘first step’ towards recovery. This series of booklets on a range of mental health topics including Self Harm, are written by clinical psychologists and provide the reader with key cognitive behavioural techniques to help understand and manage these behaviours. We’ve made the booklets accessible, easy to use and short (20-30 pages). Self Harm Brochure Download Link. 
  • 3Ts Video Series:  3Ts have produced a series of short & simple videos on a series of mental health topics, including self-harm and related issues.  If you’re concerned or unsure what steps to take, whether for yourself or for a loved one, our video on self-harm is a good place to start.  Our professional psychotherapist provides practical tips on recognising & understanding signs & symptoms, how to approach the issue and access to supports.  Know the Signs, Know the Words, Know your Supports.


A Psychotherapist explains
3Ts-3Steps-Brochure PDF | 979KB
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