[TRIGGER WARNING: The following article mentions self-harming behaviours. Reader discretion is advised.]


What is Self-Harm?

Self-Harm refers to the act of intentionally hurting oneself. It is an extremely unfortunate outcome for those facing struggles with their mental wellbeing. For those pushed to the limits of their mental endurance, self-harm represents a (maladaptive) means for coping with their struggles. In severe cases, self-harm acts as a precursor to suicide, or the act of taking one’s own life.


Methods of Self-Harm

Some forms of self-harm include:

  • Cutting oneself
  • Burning oneself
  • Hitting oneself
  • Overdosing on medication or toxins
  • Starving oneself or binge eating (anorexia and bulimia nervosa)
  • Excessive exercising
  • Alcohol and drug abuse


Signs of Self-harm

It is crucial to recognise signs of self-harm in those around us. Rapid identification of such signs enables us to intervene early, decreasing the likelihood that the person will engage in more self-destructive behaviour. Signs include:

  • Cuts, bruises, and burns on appendages
  • A depressed mood and lack of interest in things that usually make the person happy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-disgust and loathing
  • Expressions of a lack of motivation to live
  • A sudden change in appearance, particularly weight
  • Covering up even in hot weather (to conceal scars and bruises)


How Can I Help Someone Who Self-Harms?

Supporting a loved one who self-harms is a sensitive process that requires a lot of love, empathy and kindness. Some tips for approaching someone who has self-harmed include:

  • Staying calm: It is first important to understand that it is natural to feel anger upon learning that a loved one self-harms. After all, we feel protective of the ones we love, even if the person harming them is themselves. However, try to avoid reacting with anger or panic as you may exacerbate the situation, and attempt to approach the situation with understanding.
  • Displaying empathy: Do your best to put yourself in the person’s shoes and express your understanding of what he/she has been going through. Expressing empathy lets your loved one know that you are acknowledging his/her feelings without judgement and are there to help unequivocally.

Note the distinguishment between empathy and sympathy – sympathy involves understanding from your own perspective, as opposed to the person’s, and thus invokes pity instead of compassion

  • Encourage sharing: People who self-harm sometimes feel shame for their behaviour, which worsens their problem. Asking a loved one “How do you feel?” gives him/her a platform to share his/her burdens, which can go a long way in alleviating distress.

At the same, if your loved one does not feel ready to share, give him/her space and do not pry further. Being too aggressive in our efforts to encourage sharing can make us come across as nosy, causing our loved one to withhold his/her thoughts and feelings for good.


Where Can I Receive Help?

Ultimately, self-harm should never be the solution to one’s distress. Our lives are all valuable, and there are always others in our life that love and care for us. If you self-harm or have a loved one who self-harms and want to receive anonymous support, please consider the following helplines:

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444 (24 hour hotline)/ WhatsApp Text Messager
  • TOUCHline: 1800 377 2252
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 783 7019