What to do if a loved one is self-harming

Today is ‘Self-Injury Awareness Day’, a day to start a conversation about a side of trauma that deserves some awareness.

If you’re not familiar with self-injury, it means someone hurts themselves on purpose, such as cutting skin, burning skin, hitting themselves, etc. Self-injury can be a means to cope with mental illness, trauma, emotional pain, regain control of their bodies or simply feel better for a moment. Ultimately, it means someone needs care and support.

People cope with difficult thoughts, feelings, or situations in different ways. Some people cope by injuring themselves on purpose—and it may be the only way for them to feel better. Self-injury may seem frightening, but it’s important to look beyond the injuries and see what’s really going on. [Canadian Mental Health Association]

How do you know if someone is self-harming?

You may notice unexplained injuries (cuts, bruises) or unexplained scars. People who are wearing long-sleeved shirts or pants, especially in warm weather, may be trying to conceal such injuries. Sometimes, their behaviour and emotional state can be a good indicator as well.

How common is self-injury? 

According to Psychology Today17 per cent of youth intentionally injures themselves at some point. This statistic also doesn’t take into account adults who self-harm.

What can I do to support a loved one who self-harms?

Firstly, it may be difficult to understand why someone you love would want to hurt themselves. It is important to remember that for the person, their feelings are very real. Some easy tips to keep in mind when trying to support someone dealing with self-injury:

  • Focus on supporting them
  • Leave guilt, shame or judgement out of the conversation
  • Be someone they can trust
  • Be there
  • Be open to listening to what they have to say, even if it’s hard
  • Take care of yourself too

Whenever we are supporting someone else, we have to remember to keep our own needs in mind. “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others” is always true in supporting others. If you are looking for resources or more information, check out the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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