How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms
How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

Discovering that someone you love self-harms isn’t easy. You may find it challenging to understand and unsure of what to do next. Should you tell someone? Keep it a secret if they ask? What do you even say? 

While it’s a troubling situation that raises a number of troubling questions in your mind, it’s important to be as supportive, nonjudgmental, and compassionate as possible. Keeping that in mind, even if your friend or loved one begs you to keep silent, it’s crucial you don’t. Self-harm must be taken very seriously.

So in honor of self-harm awareness month, we’ve put together some tips and suggestions on how to help someone who self-harms. 

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What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm does not refer to suicide attempts. Of course, taking your own life is definitely harming yourself, but regarding the medical term, self-harm refers to deliberate, self-inflicted harm to yourself in an attempt to cope with distress and emotional pain. 

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When someone self-harms, they typically do it in secret, which makes it extremely challenging to recognize. That’s why it’s crucial to have high self-harm awareness – what it is, what it means, why it happens, and what it looks like. 


Most often, self-harm is inflicted on a person’s easy-to-hide locations like their arms, legs, and torso.

There are several ways a person can self-harm, including the following:

  • cutting
  • scratching
  • punching, hitting, or slapping oneself
  • head-banging
  • pulling out hair
  • burning oneself with a lighter, match, cigarette, or other heated object
  • puncturing the skin
  • picking at existing wounds

Reasons Why People Inflict Self-Harm

Everyone’s reasons for self-harming are going to be individual to them. As mentioned previously, someone usually self-harms to cope with challenging emotions, situations, and mental health concerns. 

Here are some of the most common reasons why someone may self-harm. 

  • to cope with psychological pain
  • as a way to signal depression to others
  • to gain a sense of control over something
  • to try to feel something when feeling numb or emotionally empty
  • to punish themselves for self-imposed “faults”
  • to distract themselves from negative feelings
  • to manage loneliness, anger, confusion, and panic

Individuals who self-harm could be doing so to cope with situations from their past or things happening in their lives right now. Self-harm could result from overwhelming school or work pressure, bullying, abuse of any kind, bereavement, job loss, anxiety, depression, homophobia/biphobia/transphobia, relationship struggles, and more. 

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Recognizing the Warning Signs of Someone Who is Self-Harming

Self-harm awareness is crucial not only during self-harm awareness month but all year long. Knowing what to look for in your friends and loved ones is vital to their well-being. If you feel someone you care about is self-harming, even if you’re unsure, offering support shows them you care about them. So don’t be shy. If you have suspicions, it’s best to ask. 

While self-harm is most common among adolescents and young adults, it can occur at any age. Not to mention, it affects individuals born as male and female equally. 

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Someone Who is Self-Harming

Here are some red flags to keep in mind so you can spot self-harm before you even know for certain. 

  • low self-esteem
  • challenging relationships or relationship avoidance
  • self-isolation
  • difficulty handling emotions
  • scars on the skin in unnatural patterns and shapes
  • unexplained frequent injuries like burns and cuts with plenty of excuses to go along with them
  • attempts to conceal injuries (like wearing long sleeves and pants when it’s hot out or refusing to change in front of others)

Tips for How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

Talking to a friend or loved one about their self-harming isn’t easy, but it’s essential. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to show them you care and listen to them. You may feel angry or confused about the situation, but do your best to stay calm, acknowledge their emotions, and focus on the fact that they are opening up to you for help.

Here are some ways on how to help someone who self-harms.

Don’t be judgmental. Many people who self-harm are ashamed of their actions and do their best to hide them. Understandably, most are nervous to talk about it for fear of being judged or presumed suicidal. Remember that just because someone self-harms doesn’t mean they are suicidal. If they detect any judgment from you, they are likely to shut down and avoid talking with you about it.

self harm stats

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Be empathetic and understanding. We know it can be challenging to try to understand why someone you care about would self-harm. But doing your best to understand how harming themselves is something they choose to do is important when supporting them in their healing. Ask questions about frequency, how it makes them feel, and others, so they know you are genuinely interested in understanding.

Let them know you care. Just telling them you are there for them is essential. Even if their reasoning doesn’t make sense to you, if they know you are on their side without judgment, they’ll be more apt to get the help they need.

Don’t dismiss their actions. Whatever you do, if someone admits to you that they are practicing self-harm, don’t shrug it off. The fact that they are confiding in you means they want help.

Don’t ask for promises. You mustn’t make ultimatums when talking with someone who self-harms. Don’t ask them to promise they won’t hurt themselves anymore. Of course, you can tell them you hope they don’t, but that if they do, you won’t judge them for it. Because if they promise you that they won’t and then end up harming themselves again, they’ll feel even more guilt and shame.

Support them in getting professional help. You certainly don’t have to condone self-harming behavior. But you can let them know that this behavior isn’t going to help them in the long run, and they can learn new, healthier ways to cope with challenging feelings and emotions by getting help from a therapist or clinician. 

The Best Outpatient Mental Health Treatment in San Diego

Our Compassionate, Experienced Clinicians at BOLD Health Can Partner With You to Help 

Sometimes, leaving it up to your friend or loved one to find mental health treatment in San Diego (or wherever you are) can backfire. The best thing you can do for them is to assist them in their search for professional help. 

Depending on your situation, you could either research and make the appointments for them, or you could partner with them to determine the best mental health treatment in San Diego to suit their needs. 

At BOLD Health in Encinitas, CA, we provide high-quality mental health treatment in San Diego to treat depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, postpartum depression, and more. We’ve worked with plenty of clients trying to overcome self-harming and are ready to assist you and your loved one, too. 

Our mental health treatment options include:

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We’ll tailor your loved one’s mental health treatment to their individual needs and schedule. Even if you opt for our IOP in San Diego, where they’ll attend group therapy sessions three times per week for ten weeks, their treatment will be convenient, in-depth, and life-changing. 

Contact us for more information about our options for mental health treatment in San Diego and how we can help you and your loved one overcome their challenging struggle with self-harm.

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