What You Need to Know About Why People Self-Harm


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

I’ll never forget the time my dad saw self-harm marks on my upper arm and was so thankful I “missed.” He thought I was trying to die by suicide. It never occurred to him there might be another reason. It never occurred to me that people might mistake self-harm for suicide. The reason this was so shocking to me, was that I knew very well that suicide and self-harm satisfy very different emotions — the exact opposite emotions, actually. Suicide is partly about escaping pain, while self-harm is usually about feeling pain — a different kind of pain. When someone feels like harming themselves, there are a lot of emotions running through our heads and a lot of them hurt. One part of self-harm is usually substituting the emotional pain for something physical — something society deems an acceptable reason to be in pain. With mental health stigma, it’s much less acceptable to be hurting because of a thought in your head. That’s just one part of what society and the stigma do to people who self-harm.

Self-harm is also about a release. All of the emotions and pain building up inside of us are about to burst and we need to escape it… somehow. Sometimes, the only thing that makes sense is self-harm.

For those of us who self-harm, we need to know there are other ways to release the pain and deal with the emotions. I’m a big advocate for finding an effective therapist you can see often. Don’t feed into the stigma by believing it’s not OK to share your feelings and talk with someone. Be brave enough to break through that. In the moment, I talk to people to distract myself or to release emotions. I’ll call my mom to talk about anything, or the crisis line to talk about my emotions and urges to self-harm. Music also helps and so does writing these articles. I know people who color or do yoga. Find what works for you. But you need to realize this is part of a mental illness, whether it’s depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or something else, and there is no shame in being sick, even if it makes you hurt yourself.

For those of you who are family and friends of people who self-harm, understanding why your loved one harms themselves is an important part of helping them deal with it. You can help provide support for your loved one by being there to listen. Just listen. Don’t judge. You can encourage your loved one to get the help they need. You can show your loved one that you don’t subscribe to the stigma against mental illness by doing these things and supporting your loved one. Most importantly, remind them you love and respect them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Photo by Anca Luchit on Unsplash


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