Self Harm


What is Self Harm?

  • Self Harm is an act which involves deliberately inflicting pain and/or injury to one’s own body, but without suicidal intent1

  • Self Harm is an expression of temporary relief from intolerable emotions and thoughts1

  • Reasons for Self Harm are different for everybody:

    • Some hurt to escape unbearable feelings

    • Some hurt as self-punishment

    • Some hurt as a way of comfort

    • Some hurt to induce feelings1


Types of Self-Harm1

  • Cutting

  • Burning

  • Inflicting blows on the body

  • Scratching, biting, picking

  • Pulling out hair (trichotillomania)

  • Swallowing sharp objects or harmful substances


Why is Harm Reduction a good Option?

  • Harm Reduction is a supportive approach, and looks to minimize risk while understanding the needs and experiences of those self-harming1

  • Harm Reduction teaches self-care, which is vital in the process of healing the root causes of self-harm1


Harm Reduction Steps to take Before Self-Harming

  • Being educated about risks of your self-harm1

    • Knowing which parts of the body have the most and least risks, and what those risks are1

    • For example, with cutting, being aware of where arteries/nerves are, and what could happen if they were cut1

  • Have an established crisis plan in case of emergency or complication2

  • Keep tetanus shot up to date2


Harm Reduction Steps to take while Self-Harming

  • Have a first-aid kit on hand, and know how to use it3

  • Sanitize any instrument that will be used for self-harm2

  • Do not share any instruments you use to self-harm with other people2

  • Avoid alcohol and drug use during self-harm, as they could incapacitate mental and physical facilities and increase chance of complication2

  • Choose to self-harm regions of your body with minimal risk


Harm Reduction Steps to take after Self-Harming

  • Maintain treatment for wounds, and continue monitoring them for infection3

  • Seek medical help in cases of infection, severe injury, and/or shock

  • Identify your support network, and talk to someone if you choose whether it be a friend, family member, medical professional, or peer supporter1


Alternatives for Self-Harm2

  • Put rubber bands on your wrists and ‘snap’ them

  • As an alternative to seeing blood, draw on your body with red marker/paint

  • Pinch yourself instead of cutting

  • Try physical exertion (ex. Walking, running, tidying, gardening)

  • Sing loudly, scream, slam doors

  • Kick or punch something soft (ex. Pillow)

  • Squeeze ice in your hands for a short time

  • Carry safe ‘fiddles’ to squeeze (ex. Tennis ball)

  • Try anything else that distracts from self-harming (yoga, talking to friends, phone support lines, writing in a diary)


How to Support a Friend who Self-Harms3

  • Have a positive, non-judgemental attitude

  • Do not force them to stop, instead encourage harm minimizing practices

  • Give support and comfort through a compassionate and caring attitude

  • Provide them an opportunity to express their feelings, if they want to




1. Inckle K. The First Cut Is the Deepest: A Harm-Reduction Approach to Self-Injury. Social Work in Mental Health. 2011;9(5):364-378.


2. Pengelly N, Ford B, Blenkiron P, Reilly S. Harm minimisation after repeated self-harm: development of a trust handbook. 2017.


4. Shaw C. Harm-minimisation for Self Harm: Traditionally, the main principle for treating self-harm has concentrated on prevention or cessation, but has the time come to focus instead on harm-minimisation techniques?. Mental Health Today. 2012;:19-21.


Contact Details

Adrianna Michell
905.525.9140 ext. 22041

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