Overview

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call Lifeline - 13 11 14 or 000

Self-harming can be a one-off incident or a habitual way a person copes with emotional pain or distress. For some people, it distracts them from their distress or provides some relief; for some, it is a way to punish themselves.

Self-harm can be confronting, distressing, and difficult to understand. For family members or friends, those close to them, it can be distressing, confusing, and frightening. It is common for those close to someone who self-harms, to feel helpless and unsure about what to do.

When someone self-harms or does something to hurt themselves - like acting recklessly or dangerously - it is often a sign of significant emotional or psychological issues that the person is unable to resolve.

People who self-harm generally hide markings or signs of self-injury from others. But if we know what to look for, it makes it easier for us to recognise when all is not well and seek professional help if required.

There are a few clear signs that may indicate someone is not okay. They include: unexplained or strangely explained physical marks, pain or illness, hiding parts of the body, avoiding situations where body parts are required to be shown, signs of emotional distress, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, mood swings, losing interest in things they once enjoyed, having problems at school or work, or withdrawing from friends and family.

Not everyone with a mental illness will self-harm, although the chance of self-harm is higher among people with mental conditions. People who self-harm are also more likely to have problems with substance or alcohol abuse.

Whether it’s you or someone you know, if someone is harming themselves, professional help is available. With good self-care and support, people who self-harm can learn to manage life’s challenges in safer and healthier ways. Feeling valued and cared for, having a strong, constructive, and loving social network, an ability to tolerate distress, and skills in dealing with emotions and stressful situations can greatly help.

How to help someone who is self-harming

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call Lifeline - 13 11 14 or 000

If you notice signs of self-harm in someone, let the person know what you’ve noticed, that you are worried and care about them. Encourage an open conversation. Ask questions that will encourage the person to share their thoughts and feelings with you. Listen carefully without judging, and acknowledge the pain that they may be experiencing. Showing compassion and empathy will help to develop trust between yourself and the person you are concerned about.

It is helpful to ask about other people in their lives who might be able to help, and encourage them to access professional support services.

Helping someone who is harming themselves can be challenging, so it’s important to take care of your own wellbeing too. You can find strategies and resources to help you maintain your wellbeing in the meaningful life section of this website. You can also find out more about caring for someone with a mental illness on the support for carers page.

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Page last updated 28th September 2017