What are the signs of self-harm?
There are many different ways people intentionally harm themselves, such as:
- cutting or burning their skin
- punching or hitting themselves
- poisoning themselves with tablets or liquids, or similar.
Many people who self-harm will try to keep it a secret. For example, if they're cutting themselves, they may cover up their skin. It's often up to close family and friends to notice when somebody is self-harming, and to approach the subject of self-harm with care and understanding.
If you think someone is self-harming, the following are some signs to look out for:
- unexplained cuts or bruises, or cigarette burns on places such as their wrists, arms, thighs or chest
- keeping themselves fully covered, even when it is hot
- having a low mood, being tearful or lacking motivation or interest in doing anything
- talking about themselves in a negative way and saying they want to punish themselves for something
- becoming withdrawn and not speaking to other people
- blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they're not good enough for something
- not wanting to go on and wishing to end it all
- signs they have been pulling out their hair or eyelashes
- signs of misusing alcohol, drugs or medication.
What can I do if someone tells me they are self-harming?
If someone tells you they are self-harming or they want to hurt themselves, remain calm, thank them for telling you and let them know you are there for them. Ask them if they want to tell you what’s going on for them. Be patient – they might not want to open up straight away but letting them know you are ready to listen is a big help.
Let them know that, when they are ready, you can support them to access professional help, like a doctor or psychologist. Go with them if possible.
If you are worried they might be suicidal, ask them. It could save their life. Asking about suicide will not put the thought in their head.
If the person is feeling suicidal, don’t leave them alone. You could ask someone else to be with them when you need to leave or need time out. It is good to call for help so you don’t need to manage the risk alone. Call 1737 or your local crisis team.(external link)
Read more about suicide prevention.
If someone is seriously hurt or has taken any poisonous substances get help immediately. Call emergency services on 111 and ask for an ambulance or take them to the emergency department at your nearest hospital.
How can I support someone who is self-harming?
If someone in your life is self-harming you can offer support in following ways:
- Be prepared to be there, offer support and stay involved. Keep talking to them and don’t avoid asking about the hard things in their life.
- If they don’t want to talk with you, ask other people you both trust to support them – friends, family or whānau members, youth workers or others.
- If they would like you to, help them to make a plan of different ways they could cope when they feel like hurting themselves, or help them to download an app like Calm Harm.
- Let them make their own decisions about reducing or stopping their self-harm. Try not to judge their behaviour, but try to understand why they are self-harming.
- Encourage and support them to do what they enjoy and connect with others.
- Accept them for who they are and let them know you care.
As a support person, know that you can’t do everything, and you don’t need to deal with this by yourself – remember it’s okay to ask for help. Find someone you can talk to, a friend or family member you trust or a counsellor.
If self-harming behaviours escalate in frequency or intensity, or the person has associated thoughts of wanting to die, call 1737 or your local crisis team.(external link)