Self Harm

Have you found out someone is self-harming?


Self-harm is a significant problem among young people around the world. Research suggests that the mean age of starting self-harm is 13 years old, with cutting being the most common type. However, self-harm has also been strongly associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviours, with research suggesting that up to 30% of young people who engage in self-harm report a suicide attempt. Most frequently, the reason for self-harm comes from a need for relief from painful thoughts and feelings. Slightly more than half of the people who self-harm seek help; however, this is often from friends rather than professional channels. So what can you do if you’ve found out a friend or family member is self-harming? 


It can be challenging for people who are self-harming to stop the behaviour by themselves. So seeking professional support is important to reduce self-harm and protect against further potential harm. Four possible strategies which can aid with self-harming behaviour include:


(1) Delaying, whereby individuals give themselves 10 minutes before self-harming. If this works, extend this to 20 minutes and then 30 minutes and so on.


(2) Distracting, whereby when individuals feel the urge to self-harm, they engage in another activity as a distraction such as exercising, calling a friend, taking a shower, playing games, playing loud music or calling a helpline. 


(3) Diverting, whereby another activity is engaged with that is similar to self-harm but won’t cause injury, such as holding an ice cube, having a cold or hot shower, punching a pillow or eating something with a strong taste like chilli. 


(4) Deep Breathing and other relaxation methods can also help manage self-harm. 


Furthermore, given the high rates of self-harm among adolescents, it can be helpful to seek out programs that improve adolescents’ ability to deal with negative feelings effectively. This also serves as a preventative measure even before the onset of any self-harming behaviour.

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