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Understanding Self-Harm

Posted by Erin Fischer on

When we think of self-harm, we think of scars up and down someone’s arms, people wearing long sleeves even in the middle of Summer and someone who is visibly depressed and moody. Self-harm isn’t a mental illness, but it can be a side effect. A person with a mental illness is more likely to self-harm than those who don’t have a mental illness, but someone may self-harm if they have experienced trauma, abuse or a major negative life event.

Something to remember about self-harm is that person doing it doesn’t want to kill themselves but wants to remind themselves that they are alive and have control over a situation often using it as a way to release emotions. Self-harm is often referred to as non-suicidal self-injury however self-harm can cause accidental suicide and the pattern of self-harm can lead to suicide. Along with accidentally causing suicide it can also cause long term damage on the body, possible infection, worsening of underlying mental health conditions, severe injury and feelings of shame and guilt.

Self-harm can take on many shapes and isn’t just cutting. It can also look like the following:

  • Starvation
  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Putting yourself in risky situations
  • Pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion

Some people may do self-harm repeatedly, others will only do it once or twice and people may switch between how they do it, so they won’t get caught. It’s not uncommon for people to stop and start self-harm throughout their lives depending on what is going on.

It can be easy to hide the signs of self-harm but there are a few things to look for if you suspect that someone is doing it:

  • Wearing long sleeves/clothes that aren’t appropriate for the weather.
  • Avoiding activities where skin may be exposed such as swimming.
  • Having unexplained wounds and/or vague answers when asked how they got a particular injury.
  • Experiencing anxiety/depression.
  • Avoiding people and social situations/appearing disengaged with people.
  • Changes from their usual eating and sleeping schedule.

If you do suspect that someone you know is self-harming, it’s best to talk to them privately and express your concerns. Let them know that you are there for them and you’re not going to judge them and encourage them to get help. If you  think they are at danger of seriously harming themselves you need to call triple 0, you could also contact one of the services listed under Urgent Help.

There is still a huge stigma attached to self-harm so if you see someone with visible scars don’t ask about them or stare. Instead realise that the scars are part of their story and they show you that they have survived a hard past.

Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Erin’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.


Self-harm - causes, warning signs and symptoms and when to seek help | healthdirect

Self-harm and self-injury - Better Health Channel

Self-injury/cutting - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic



About Erin Fischer

Am the qualified mental health professional at Barty Single Origin. Write topical pieces with a focus on mental health. Always available on chat, Just say, 'Hey Erin'. Passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and letting people know it's A-OK to be not OK. Mental health advocate, Anxiety survivor, baker, crafter, cat lover, blogger, and always down to get a coffee and chat.


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