Detecting Signs of Self Harm

Table of Contents

Detecting Signs and Offering Support

Self-harm is a commonly misunderstood coping mechanism that some use to quell overwhelming emotions or find comfort in distressing situations. Self-harm does not discriminate and can affect individuals of all demographics and walks of life. Self-harm only provides short-term relief and is not a healthy nor sustainable coping mechanism. In this group, we will first learn about the different variations of self-harm and how to detect the signs that someone is self-harming. We will then address the proper way to approach someone who is self-harming and how you can assist them in building healthier coping mechanisms. From there the group will engage in an exercise that will provide members with coping skills that they can provide their loved ones or use for themselves should they ever struggle with self-harm.

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is a deliberate and direct injury to oneself without suicidal intent. Common methods include cutting, burning, hitting, or scratching oneself. Self-harm is not a cry for attention but is often a symptom of underlying emotional pain or distress.

Detecting Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs of self-harm can be challenging, as individuals may go to great lengths to hide their injuries. However, there are several signs to look out for:

  • Physical Signs: Unexplained cuts, bruises, burns, or scars, particularly in discreet areas of the body such as the wrists, thighs, or abdomen.
  • Behavioral Signs: Withdrawal from social activities, sudden changes in mood or behavior, wearing clothing that covers the body even in warm weather.
  • Emotional Signs: Expressing feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt, difficulty managing emotions, engaging in risky behaviors.

Risk Factors

Several factors may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility towards adopting self-harm behaviors:

  • Mental Health Disorders: Conditions such as depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may increase the likelihood of self-harm.
  • Trauma or Adverse Experiences: Past trauma, abuse, or unresolved emotional wounds can contribute to feelings of distress and the urge to self-harm.
  • Peer Pressure or Social Isolation: Feeling disconnected from peers or experiencing bullying or social pressure can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and lead to self-harm as a coping mechanism.
  • Substance Abuse: Drug or alcohol misuse may lower inhibitions and increase the likelihood of engaging in self-destructive behaviors.

Approaching Someone You Suspect is Self-Harming

Finding out that someone you love is self-harming is not easy and your initial reaction may even be anger but it is important to not take this anger out on them. Instead recognize the vulnerability of their position and treat them with love, gentleness, and compassion. If you’re a family member or friend of someone who is self-harming, don’t attempt to handle the situation on your own and seek support from a mental health professional. Here are some tips on how to approach the situation with care and sensitivity:

  • Express Concern: Express your concern in a non-judgmental manner, emphasizing your desire to support them.
  • Listen Actively: Provide a safe space for them to share their feelings and experiences without fear of judgment.
  • Encourage Professional Help: Encourage them to seek professional help from a therapist, counselor, or mental health professional who can provide appropriate support and treatment.

Preventive Strategies

These strategies can be used to prevent further self-harming behaviors by providing healthier alternatives to coping with emotional distress:

  • Building a Support Network: Encourage the individual to connect with trusted friends, family members, or support groups who can offer understanding and support.
  • Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Explore alternative ways to manage stress and emotions, such as journaling, exercise, mindfulness, or engaging in creative activities.
  • Seeking Professional Help: Encourage the individual to seek therapy or counseling to address underlying mental health issues and learn healthy coping strategies.

Creating a Safe Environment

Preventive Strategies

Fostering a safe and support environment for those struggling with self-harm is essential for helping them manage self-harm behaviors:

  • Encourage Open Dialogue: Foster open communication about mental health and self-care to reduce stigma and encourage seeking help.
  • Provide Information and Resources: Educate individuals about available mental health resources, including hotlines, counseling services, and online support groups.
  • Offer Support: Offer ongoing support and encouragement, emphasizing that they are not alone and that help is available.

Supporting Recovery

Supporting loved ones through their recovery is an ongoing journey that involves empathy and patience:

  • Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate small victories and milestones in their recovery journey.
  • Offer Ongoing Support: Be there for them consistently, offering encouragement and assistance as needed.
  • Emphasize Professional Help: Remind them of the importance of seeking professional help and following through with treatment and therapy.

Addressing Relapses

Although, it may be troubling to witness relapses in your loved ones recovery, it is essential to understand that relapses are a normal part of the recovery process:

  • Normalize Setbacks: Remind them that setbacks are a natural part of the recovery process and do not erase progress made.
  • Encourage Help-Seeking: Encourage them to reach out for help and reassess their coping strategies if they experience a relapse.
  • Emphasize Progress: Remind them of the progress they have made and encourage them to continue moving forward in their recovery journey.


Understanding the reasons why individuals self-harm is the first step towards understanding the position of a loved one who may be engaging in these behaviors. Coming from a place of understanding creates a safer environment for loved ones to communicate about their struggles. When an individual is met with caring and compassion, they will be more receptive towards the resources that are given and more likely to reach out for professional help which will lead to the development of healthier coping mechanisms. If you or a loved one is struggling with self-harm, it is important to seek professional counseling. You can find resources for online counseling through Guiding With Care at


What are some of the coping skills that I can use when I’m cutting. What can I do in this moment to get relief instead of harming myself?

"Self-harm is a silent struggle often born from overwhelming emotions or distress. Recognizing its signs and approaching with empathy can be a beacon of hope. Together, we learn, support, and guide toward healthier coping, fostering a safe haven where recovery blooms from understanding and compassion."

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