Self-Injury Awareness Day: How to Help People Who Want to Harm Themselves

If someone chooses to self-harm, ask does it happen without a diagnosis or is it happening inspite of diagnosis.

3 min read
Hindi Female

(Trigger warning: This story mentions self-harm. If you have thoughts of self-harm, or you know someone who is in trouble, please show them your sympathy and call these numbers for local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)

I was 16 years old when I first started putting my theories of self-harm to practice. I was never proud of it, and wish I had better support.

While it is pertinent to address the topic of self-harm in a sensitive manner, most people choose to brush it under the carpet.

How can those who deal with people with self-injury tendencies help them better? FIT asked psychologists.


A Cry For Help Needs To be Heard

Vasundhara Choudhary, a Delhi-based psychologist, explains, "We need to keep a couple of factors in mind while dealing with someone who chooses to self-harm. Does it happen without a diagnosis, or is it happening in spite of a diagnosis. In either case, the person who is suffering should be immediately seek professional help."

Those dealing with people with self-harm tendencies may feel that they are equipped enough to manage the situation, but this may not always be the case.

"Taking external help does not mean you don't care enough. It is a better approach, in most cases," she adds.

"People who do self harm often need validation. It is important to acknowledge that they are in pain, and their cry for help is not dismissed as nothing. It is most important to give them this assurance."
Vasundhara Choudhary, Psychologist

What Are the Symptoms & Signs to Watch Out For

While trying to help of a person who chooses to self-harm, experts say, these are some signs to watch out for:

  • Wearing extra covered clothes that cover their arms or legs specifically.

  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, other wounds.

  • Regular incidents of hurting themselves

  • Lack of trust and feeling unsafe constantly

  • Feeling comfortable in discussing ideas of self harm and the wish to not live often


Don't Shame Them For the Act

Do not shame their tendencies calling it 'attention seeking' or 'unnecessary' – but one can be firm about how their outlet is not a healthy one.

However, in situations like these, telling a person that harming or hurting themselves is "not the right thing to do" isn't going to be enough.

"Feelings are our way to negotiate with the world around us. If an emotion is not acknowledged or is repressed, the ways of coping with it will not have a healthy outcome. Therapy, talking about it openly may be the answer," says Vickie Rai, a Mental Health Counsellor.

Personally, therapy made me realise that when I harm myself, I am hurting my caregivers – making it more difficult for them to express their concerns, fearing the thought of triggering me.

"To help people who have a pattern or history when it comes to self harm, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) could be quite helpful," Choudhary added.


Stress On Importance Of Interpersonal Connections

It is also important for those concerned to learn stress tolerance techniques that will to regulate their behaviour.

Caregivers must also stress on the person making interpersonal connections, and having safety nets, which can help reduce the frequency of them harming themselves, Rai added.

Along with all these, it is very important to let the person know that they have a safe and judgment free space to open up and talk about their feelings.

"While it's natural to panic, as a caregiver, one will have to try not showing it in front of the person who's harming themselves. It is absolutely okay to express your concern, but without putting the other person in a state of fear," says Bhavna, a Bangalore-based psychologist.

Often, people who self harm perpetually feel they cannot confide in anyone.

"There can be many reasons behind it, it can be fear of becoming a liability, fear of judgement, shame, or anything of sorts. So to help them help themselves, do express how you feel but do it with kindness."
Bhavna, psychologist

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