Self-Harm: What is it and How to Help

Cutting, or self-harm is an act of self-mutilation. It can occur anywhere on the body, but common places where individuals self harm may be on the wrists, arms or thighs in order to keep the behavior a secret. Discovering that someone you love is self-harming, is extremely upsetting and can feel like a crisis.

Many people believe that self-harm is a suicidal gesture. This is not necessarily the case, although every individual has a different set of circumstances. Cutting is often a coping skill that individuals engage in to help deal with stressors or emotional pain.  It is often a symptom of other mental health issues, such as depression, low self-esteem, grief or other deep emotional distress.

So what do you do if you discover your loved one is self-harming?

  • Assess for suicidal thoughts or intent.  Have a dialogue and determine if the behavior is a coping skill or a suicidal behavior in disguise.  If the person is having suicidal feelings, immediately go to your local hospital emergency room, or call 911.
  • Stay calm.  If there is no current suicidal ideation, seek the self the help of a licensed mental health professional who is an expert in self-harming behavior.  Ongoing support and understanding of the underlying emotions and reasons for the behavior are critical in order to help the person understand and create healthier coping skills.           
  • Educate yourself about self-harm.  This can provide you with skills to deal with the feelings that go along with knowing a loved one is physically harming.
  • Seek support and help for yourself.  You are not alone.  Finding safety and comfort among other people who understand what you are going through will help ease the pain and provide you a path toward health for you and your family.

Help is out there! You do not have to navigate this alone. 

Brittany Ruane, LCSW