How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

Self-harm can affect anyone in your life, from family members to friends and acquaintances. Age, social class, and gender do not matter when it comes to self-harm. It can be crucial to know how to help someone who self-harms in order to potentially save their life. Mental health concern can be a precursor to someone using self-harm as a way to cope, making it vital to have mental health treatment in order to stop or prevent self-harm. However, mental health issues are not the only cause of self-harm. 

Understanding self-harm, the reasons people turn to it, and how you can help those who struggle with it can be beneficial to the loved one that harms themself recovering from it. 

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is the act of hurting yourself intentionally. The most commonly discussed form of self-harm is cutting with sharp objects to inflict physical pain. However, there are many forms of self-harm. Any purposeful act to cause injury or harm to oneself is classified as self-harm. Burning, cutting, hitting, or even pinching yourself can be viewed as forms of self-harm. 

People usually turn to this form of pain in order to cope, or deal with, emotional pain or distress. Typically, these acts are not an attempt at suicide, they are a way to not feel whatever emotional pain someone is going through. 

Reasons for Self-Harm

There is no real easy, clear cut reason that can be stated as to why people self-harm. Self-harm is not classified as a mental illness, rather it is a behavior indicating the need for healthier coping skills that can help to end the behaviors. However, causing self-inflicted injuries can be a warning sign for some underlying mental health concerns such as depression, borderline personality disorder, or anxiety. Addressing these disorders can help to end the behaviors associated with self-harm. 


Intrapersonal reasons refer to things centered within the person who self-harms. Negative thoughts and feelings about self can lead to self-inflicted injury. A person can also feel like they are punishing themself for whatever reason they feel is necessary by acting out on these behaviors. 


This form of self-harm is more outwardly focused. This can mean the person is seeking some form of attention, or support from those around them. It can be viewed as a sign of distress. It is important to know how to help someone who self-harms for this kind of attention.

Warning Signs of Self-Harm

Being that self-harm can be hard to identify, knowing the warning signs of it can help loved ones know how to help someone who self-harms. About 5% of people harm themselves, and more often it is women who turn to this behavior. Although it can occur to anyone at any time and any age, it is most commonly seen during the teenage years. Understanding common warning signs can help loved ones begin to seek out ways to help someone who self-harms. Some warning signs to look out for are:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Being impulsive
  • Commonly and inexplicably hurting themselves with excuses for the injuries
  • Hiding these injuries from loved ones
  • Scars, usually in a cluster or pattern
  • Low self esteem
  • Negative self talk or talk of feeling helpless or hopeless 

Self-Harm and Suicide

The act of self-inflicted injury isn’t always a suicide attempt. Oftentimes, it can be a way to avoid suicide attempts. However, self-harm tendencies can also lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. This is why it is vital to understand how to help someone who self-harms. These behaviors can be a precursor to more serious behaviors and acts of harming oneself. The emotional instabilities that lead to self-harm can often eventually lead to serious suicide attempts.

What Can You Do?

If you are concerned that a loved one is engaging in behaviors that can be considered self-harm, or if they have admitted to engaging in self-harm, there are ways that you can help. One of the most important things you can do is be supportive, and not judgmental. Avoiding judgment can help the person to feel safe. Also, avoid asking them to promise not to harm themselves again. This can cause a deeper feeling of distress in them and worsen the behaviors. Finally, encouraging them to seek help can be the best way you can help someone who self-harms. Addressing the underlying problems with professionals can lead to better results than just dealing with it alone can.

Help for Self-Harm in Knoxville, TN

Self-harm can be highly detrimental to the person using these behaviors to cope with different life problems. However, it can lead to more dangerous actions in the future. If you or a loved one are struggling with self-harm, reach out to the professionals at Discovery Place, and our staff can help guide you to a healthier and positive coping mechanism to help end these dangerous behaviors. Contact us today!

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