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Self-Harm

Self-harm is any intentional injury to one’s own body. The intention is to alter the mood. It is not self-harm if the person is doing it for body decoration or to fit in. While body decoration and trying to fit in is intentional, it is not to alter mood state. 

Myths About Self-Harm

FACT – People who self-harm are not necessarily suicidal.

Self-harm does not equal suicide. Self-harm is a negative coping skill which people use to deal with the circumstances in their life. If the person goes untreated, the person’s mental health concerns might get worse and turn into thoughts of suicide. Self-injury is typically the person trying to express their emotions and feel better.

Consider the following quote:

“I don’t cut because I want to die. I cut because I want to live.”

Self-harm is the person trying to cope with the hard things in their life.

FACT – Self-harm is not just cutting.

The most common types of self-harm are cutting (75%), self-hitting (30%), and burning (28%). Females are more likely to practice cutting whereas males are more likely to utilize self-hitting or burning.

FACT – Self-harm impacts all genders.

There are some people who feel self-harm is a “teenage girl” issue. Females are more likely to engage in self-harm as compared to males, but males account for at least 35% of cases. There is also a chance men underreport their experiences with self-harm. People who are 2SLGBTQ+ are at a higher risk of self-harm.

FACT – Adolescents are the more likely age group to harm themselves.

Small children and adults are the least likely to intentionally harm themselves. Teenagers and college students harm themselves at a higher rate as compared to other age groups. 17% of teenagers and 15% of college students engaging in self-harm.

FACT – People who harm themselves usually do so in secret.

There is a common belief people harm themselves for attention. That is typically not the case. There is a lot of shame associated with self-harm, so people typically hide the fact they are coping with self-harm. Self-injury is not something people talk about very openly. Society tends to keep things quiet about self-harm. This silence makes it very difficult to reach out and ask for help for fear of judgement.  In the rare case of someone self-injuring for attention, the person needs help in learning how to get attention from people in a positive and productive way.

FACT – People do not just grow out of self-harm. They need professional help.

There is not a magical turning point where people wake up with healthy coping skills. They take time to develop and practice. The reasons for self-harm are often very complex and a professional can help them deal with all of the facets of what they are going/have gone through.

FACT – This is simply untrue.

People who self-injure feel pain just like anyone else. Oftentimes, people self-injure because they are trying to match their inside, emotional pain with outside, physical pain.

FACT – Self-harm is not for one group of people.

If someone likes the shade black, that does not mean they are not doing well. They could simply like the aesthetic. There is no evidence of self-harm being part of one specific subculture. There is not just one group of people.

FACT – People harm themselves for a variety of reasons.

There are many reasons why someone may harm themselves. Every person’s experience is different. The reason for self-harm is generally rooted in emotional pain, but the cause of this pain is not the same for everyone. 

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Causes of Self-Harm

There are two overarching reasons why people harm themselves: hyper-stress and dissociation.

Hyper-stress is essentially what it sounds like. Hyper-stress occurs when the person is laden with a lot of stressors in their life. Some stress can be positive, productive, and motivating, but when it becomes too much it becomes toxic stress.

Dissociation is a break in how the brain processes emotions, events, and experiences. It is typically caused from trauma often during childhood. It results in not feeling present in one’s own body. For some, it is almost like watching a play or dolls instead of being present in the moment. In relation to the traumatic incident or their life, the person may have lapses in memory. The person may feel unreal, disconnected, or not present. To cope with feeling unreal, the person may harm themselves.

With both hyper-stress and dissociation, something happens. A trigger. A tipping point. This does not have to be something big. From the outside, it could seem insignificant, but to them, it is a problem. This trigger pushes them to their limit and may cause them to harm themselves to try to match the internal pain/struggle with the outside, physical pain.

Have you ever stubbed your toe and there were a few moments before the pain came rushing in? That is because your body releases neurotransmitters, namely endorphins. Endorphins are released when the body is injured or under stress. They help to reduce feelings of pain. When someone intentionally harms themselves, their body releases a rush of endorphins.  The person might feel relief or present within their body.

Harming themselves does not change the stressors in their life. It does not deal with the trauma. The person still has all the same circumstances in their life. It is only a matter of time before the person will feel overwhelmed and laden with stress and emotions. This might cause them to harm themselves again, but it will not feel the same as the first time. Think of the first time you have done anything. The rush was new and exhilarating. It is the same with self-harm. The thing is we can never experience something for the first time again, so the person might try to recapture the feeling by harming themselves more frequently or more severely to get the rush of the endorphins.

What Are The Signs of Self-Harm In Others?

There are a couple of signs to look out for when someone is engaging in self-harm. This is not a conclusive list.

Some signs could include:

  • Wearing pants or long sleeves even in warm weather to cover any injury to the body
  • Avoiding wearing things like bathing suits
  • Having unnecessary sharp objects or tools
  • Withdrawing/isolating self
  • Feeling helpless, worthless, or hopeless
  • Unexplained injuries or the explanations do not quite line up
  • Scars in a pattern
  • Fresh wounds
  • Wearing bracelets, scarves, or other accessories to cover the injuries

What to Do if You Are Self-Injuring?

First thing is to remember there is no shame with self-harm. You were doing what you could to deal with the difficult circumstance in your life, but you deserve to be well. You deserve to feel happy and confident.

First: Remember, no one is 100% all the time. It is okay not to be okay. It is about seeking help when you need it.

Second: Tell someone you trust. Find someone you trust who will help you connect with professional help. You deserve to feel better and get help!

If you are harming yourself, telling someone about it can be difficult, but it is important. Take a moment to think about someone you trust. If you feel like you cannot talk to someone you know, that is okay. There are helplines and health care professionals who are there to listen. When you decide to tell someone, do what works best for you. For some people, it might be writing it down and for others, it might be saying it out loud. If you tell someone and they do not listen or react poorly, remember this is not a reflection on you. It reflects them and their own biases or issues. Tell someone else. You deserve to get help! No matter who the person is, it is important you also connect with professional help. It is their job to help you.

Third: Practice self-care. Make healthy choices for your mental health and practice positive coping skills. Find people who support you.

It is okay not to be okay, but it is important to reach out for help when you need it.

In addition to seeking professional help, there are some things you can do to support your mental health. Click on the Tips for Wellness below or the Wellness Sessions.

How to Help?

There is great stigma surrounding self-harm. This stigma makes it difficult to reach out for help due to fear of judgement. Because of this stigma, when someone tells you they are harming themselves, it can be scary and it can be hard to know what to say. That is a terrifying thing. It is easy to become caught up in emotions. Many people fear saying the wrong thing. We often want to try to fix our friend’s problems or counsel them, but that is not our job. Your main job is to tell someone and connect your friend to help.

The following are some guidelines of what to do when your friend tells you they are struggling and how to handle those difficult conversations. There is a good chance your friend will talk to you before they talk to their parents/guardians. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a helping professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page.

These are guidelines of some things to consider:

The person is telling you something scary and personal to them. This is terrifying for both of you. Take a moment to gather yourself and take a deep breath.

Give the person the time and consideration you would like if you were struggling. Be the best friend you would like helping you in this situation by giving your friend your full attention. They deserve it. It will also help you know what your friend is trying to tell you. While you are listening, be understanding and compassionate. Give your friend the space to talk.
  • Do not judge your friend. What they are coping with might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to them. Therefore, it is valid.
    • Sometimes when someone tells us how they are struggling, we react with anger or judgement because we are scared. We might say something like “Oh my goodness! How could you say/think something so stupid?”; “Don’t be dumb”; or “How could you say something like that?” As you can imagine, this is not helpful for your friend. What your friend hears is “you are stupid/dumb.”
  • Do not interrupt your friend. Being interrupted is very frustrating. It can make the person feel like they are not being heard.
  • Put your phone down! Have you ever talked to someone who is on their phone, and they don’t hear a word you say? It can be very frustrating. Treat your friend with the respect they deserve.
  • Be the best friend you can be and the person you would like if you were in that situation.

Your friend needs to get help. This is not something you can deal with without professional/adult help. Sometimes, it can feel like adults do not listen or take problems seriously, but this is something you need to talk to an adult about. Help your friend think of someone they trust.

Try saying something like:

  • “Have you thought about who else you could talk to about this?”
  • “Have you told anyone else?”
  • “Who do you feel comfortable talking to about this?”
  • “Okay let’s find you some help. Who do you feel comfortable telling?”

 

If they feel like they have no one they can trust, talk to someone you trust. Thinking of who to talk to can be really challenging when you are struggling because it can feel so lonely. If your friend is having a hard time thinking of someone to talk to, help connect them with resources, like a school counsellor or family liaison worker. You can also offer your friend some helplines they can call when they are struggling too. If you are comfortable, you can also offer to go with your friend to talk to the adult. If the first person you tell does not listen, tell someone else.

If your friend asks you to keep it a secret, you cannot keep it a secret. There are things we keep secret for friends, like their crush or that embarrassing story they swore you to secrecy about, but there are three instances where you must break your friend’s confidence. Eating disorders have many negative health consequences.

  • They are going to harm themself.
  • They are going to harm someone else.
  • They are being harmed by someone.

Talking to a friend who is struggling is challenging. Talk to someone about it to help cope with the stress of the situation. This does not mean gossip but using your own support system. Practice self-care. Do something you enjoy. For self-care ideas, visit the self-care section here.

Sometimes, people will not want to talk to you. That is okay. It is their choice. Simply let them know you are there to talk if they need someone and give them resources, like hotlines they can call whenever they want to talk to someone.

How to Talk to Someone About Their Mental Health?

If you have a feeling something is going on, have a conversation with the person if you feel comfortable talking to them. (If you do not feel comfortable, that is okay. You just need to tell someone who will have the conversation with them and connect them with help).

The following are some guidelines of what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal or not doing well. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a counsellor, doctor, or another professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider. 

Before You Have the Conversation:

  • Make sure you have time for it
  • You are in a place the person will feel comfortable talking to you
  • Approach the situation with compassion
  • Make sure you are willing to listen
  • Remember you can initiate the conversation and let them know you are there, but it may take some time before they talk to you.
  1. Take notice. If you feel like something is going on with someone, there likely is something. Trust that gut instinct.
  2. Talk to them. Open the conversation in a nonjudgemental and compassionate way. Begin the conversation by stating a change you have noticed. Use “I” statements so it does not feel like you are accusing them.
    • Example: “Hey, I have noticed you have been cancelling plans lately. How are you doing?” or “I heard you putting yourself down in class. What’s been going on?”
  3. Listen. Listen to hear and understand. If you do not understand something they are saying, paraphrase and ask them to clarify. Listening means putting down your phone and giving them your undivided attention. Let the person talk. Do not feel the need to fill the silence. Allow them the space they need. Sometimes, we want to interject our opinion, but this is about the person, not your opinions. While you listen, approach the situation with nonjudgement and compassion.
  4. Connect the person with help. If their level of risk is high and they cannot keep themselves safe, connect them with emergency services. If they are not a danger to themselves, they still need help. Connect the person with a counsellor, agency, or person they can talk to about what is going on in their life.

 

DO NOT keep it a secret. You must tell someone so the person gets help. You must connect the person with a mental health professional.

Myths / Facts Section

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FACT – Lorem ipsum

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FACT – Lorem ipsum

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FACT – Lorem ipsum

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FACT – Lorem ipsum

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Follow-up Support for Someone Coping With Self-Harm

Students

  • Listen to your friend
  • Be understanding
  • Support your friend in making healthy choices
  • Invite your friend to join you in fun activities
  • Practice healthy boundaries – For more information about healthy boundaries, click here
  • Do not keep it a secret – Your friend needs help!

Things to Avoid

  • Telling the person to stop immediately – While this may seem like a good idea, it can send the person into crisis. Self-injury is their way of dealing with the problems in their life. If that is taken away, they might feel like they have no way of dealing with the stressors in their life. This is why it is so important to connect them with professional help, so they can learn positive coping skills to replace their negative coping skills.
  • Making it about you – When someone you love is struggling, you might internalize the problem and blame yourself. This is common. This is about them not you. Treat the person with kindness, compassion, and support. If you are struggling, talk to a professional.
  • Threatening the person
  • Keeping it a secret
  • Ignore the situation or avoid talking about it – Avoiding the topic of self-harm does not make it go away. It perpetuates the stigma and does not change the reality of some people using it to cope.
  • Minimizing the person’s experience

Tips for Wellness

Breaking the habit of self-harm can be a difficult process. With professional help, there are a couple of things a person can do to support their wellness and break the cycle of self-harm.

Healthy Coping Skills:

  • Make a list of reasons to stop self-harming and read it when there is a temptation of self-harm
  • Think about current stressors and scribble on a piece of paper
  • Scream into a pillow
  • Journal (destroy the paper after if worried about having it written down)
  • Watch a funny movie
  • Call a friend, family member, hotline, or counselor
  • Listen to music
  • Do something fun
  • Go for a walk outside

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