Warning Signs of Self-Harm and How to Respond
Self-harm means hurting yourself on purpose. Also known as self-injury, self-harm is a symptom of extreme emotional distress. Individuals, especially teens, engage in different types of self-harm that can be hard to identify. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of self-harm, common warning signs, and what you can do if you suspect a friend or loved one is self-harming.
Forms of Self-Harm
Self-harm typically occurs in private and is done in a controlled or ritualistic manner that often leaves a pattern on the skin. Some forms of self-harm include:
- Burning (with lit matches, cigarettes, or heated, sharp objects like knives)
- Carving words or symbols on the skin
- Self-hitting, punching, or head banging
- Piercing the skin with sharp objects
- Inserting objects under the skin
Warning Signs of Self-Harm
Knowing and being able to recognize the warning signs of self-harm will help you provide immediate support. Warning signs include:
- Scars, often in patterns
- Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks, or other wounds
- Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
- Keeping sharp objects on hand
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
- Frequent reports of accidental injury
What to Do If You Suspect a Friend or Loved One Is Self-Harming
If you’re worried a friend or loved one might be self-harming, ask him/her how he/she is doing and be prepared to listen to the answer, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Here are some ways to help.
- Your child. Consult your pediatrician or other health care provider who can provide an initial evaluation or a referral to a mental health professional.
- Pre-teen or teenage friend. Suggest that your friend talk to parents, a teacher, a school counselor, or another trusted adult.
- An Adult. Gently express your concern and encourage the person to seek mental health treatment.
For more information and resources about self-harm, visit https://www.pennfoundation.org/march-is-self-harm-awareness-month/.
One-in-five individuals harm themselves, often starting in their adolescent years. Self-harm is a sign of emotional distress, but doctors and therapists can help. Reach out for support and resources today.