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Practical help for self harm

If you are using self harm as a way to cope with difficult emotions, there are places you can turn to for help

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Self harm is sometimes used as a way to cope with difficult or negative emotions. In some situations, a person might self harm when they are feeling overwhelmed and are looking for a way to release tension, numb a difficult emotion, or otherwise express how they’re feeling.

It can be difficult to stop or reduce self harm, but there are things you can do and people you can turn to for help. It may take time but it is possible to find healthy coping mechanisms that work for you.

Practical help for self harm

Finding alternative coping mechanisms can take time, and it may involve trying a combination of techniques to help you find what works for you.

The most important thing you can do is talk to someone about what’s going on, whether that’s a doctor, a counsellor, a friend, or someone in your life who you trust. Having support around you will help you on your journey to recovery.

Talk to someone

Opening up to someone about your mental health can be difficult, and telling someone about your self harm might feel even harder. You might be worried about what they’ll think and how they’ll react, but it is important that you reach out to someone you trust. Sharing what’s going on can be a relief, and having someone to talk to can also help you to work through your emotions.

If you are not ready to talk to someone you know, such as a family member or friend, there are a number of support organisations out there who will listen to what you have to say without judgement.

You can call Pieta House for free at 1800 247 247 any time of the day or night to talk to someone, or text HELP to 51444.

Identify your triggers

Whenever you have the urge to self harm, try to identify what it was that brought that urge on. It could have been a thought, an emotion, a comment from someone else, or a memory. Knowing what it was that made you want to self harm can help you to prepare for the next time you have an impulse so that you have alternative ways to deal with it.

Find a distraction technique that works for you

Knowing what your triggers are can help you to prepare ways to distract yourself whenever the urge comes up. There are plenty of ways you can distract yourself if you feel an impulse to engage in self harm, but you might need to try a few different things before you find what works for you.

Try and find something active to do that can keep you busy for a while, like an activity using your hands such as drawing or knitting, or getting some exercise, even if it’s just for 15 or 20 minutes.


Try to develop healthier coping mechanisms

Distraction techniques are great for dealing with the urges in the moment, but it’s a good idea to also think of how you could manage your emotions in the long run without self harm.

Talking to someone, writing things down, practising self care by taking time to look after yourself, and mindfulness are all examples of healthy coping mechanisms. Seeing a counsellor is a great way to develop healthier ways to cope with someone who can guide you through the process.

Make a plan

After identifying your triggers, trying out different distraction techniques, and working on healthier coping mechanisms, take the things that work best for you and create a plan for dealing with the urges when they come up. Having a plan means you know how to control your urges and what you need to do to resist them. If it helps, let others know about your plan, and ask them to support you with it so that you don’t have to do it alone.

Get professional help

Dealing with self harm and mental health difficulties can be tough, but you don’t have to go through it alone. If you don't feel you can open up to a parent, teacher, or sibling, try to think of someone you would feel okay telling. Keeping a secret places tremendous pressure on your mind, and having someone you can turn to will help.

There are people and organisations out there who want to help you through this. The first step for finding professional help for many people is to talk to your GP about what’s going on and ask if they can refer you to a mental health service in your area.

If you need to talk you can call Samaritans for free 24 hours a day at 116 123 or email

You can also call Pieta House for free at 1800 247 247 any time of the day or night to talk to someone, or text HELP to 51444.

Find out what to do in a self harm emergency.

There are several different ways to reduce harm and find support for self harming. You may need to try a few different methods and supports until you find the one that works best for you. For information on self harm reducing and finding supports visit our Mental Health section.

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Published July 10th2019
Tags self harm self harm campaign
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