1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males will engage in some form of self-mutilation or self-harm in their lifetime.

These statistics are alarming, and the results can be fatal. The biggest challenge with self-harming behaviours is that those who are engaging in them are often very sneaky with it.

It may be unlikely that they will talk openly about their emotional struggles, past traumas or current activities. It is up to us, as a whole, to keep an eye on people we love – especially if we feel they may be predisposed to mental illness.

Self-harm is an umbrella term for any deliberate activity that will cause harm or pain to oneself.

Different people will harm themselves differently. Some people may cut, burn or punch themselves. These injuries most typically can be found on their wrists, legs or stomach (places that can be easily hidden underneath clothing).

Another common form of self-harm may be binge eating, intentional starvation or over-exercising. Lastly, some individuals may misuse drugs or alcohol as a form of self-harm.

Self-harm can be difficult to detect. Especially because it comes in many different forms. Not to mention, if you’ve never harmed yourself, then it may be hard to believe or understand why anybody would. However, it is a very real issue that can be fueled by social problems, trauma or psychological troubles.

Here are 11 signs that may signal self-harm or self-mutilation:

  1. Keeping themselves covered to disguise bruises, burns, wounds or weight loss/gain. Note clothing even on a hot summer day, or perhaps wearing an excessive amount of jewellery (ie. bracelets to cover up wrist wounds)
  2. Unexplained cuts, bruises or burns
  3. Signs of depression – Including isolation, irritability, restlessness, loss of motivation or interest, trouble concentrating, fatigue and insomnia
  4. Self-loathing – Expression of hatred or anger toward oneself. They might express their feelings of wanting to punish themselves.
  5. Disinterest in life
  6. Withdrawn – Can be a sign of depression. Often people struggling with self-harm or self-mutilating behaviour will attempt to disengage with people that may notice.
  7. Changing in eating habits- Whether overeating or undereating.
  8. Unusual weight loss or weight gain – Could be a sign of an eating disorder, severe stress/depression or from alcohol or drug use.
  9. Low self-esteem – People suffering from any form of self-mutilation or self-harm often have extremely low self-esteem and may voice that.
  10. Hair loss – Potentially from them pulling out their hair (self-mutilation) or is falling out (sign of bulimia).
  11. An increase of using alcohol or drugs – Watch out for dependence on any alcohol or drugs, even if it’s prescribed.

If you suspect somebody you know or love is engaging in self-harming or self-mutilating behaviour, remain calm! Approach the situation with care, compassion and acceptance. Do not show shock, repulsion, or anger. They need to know that they are supported and loved.

Open the lines of communication and discuss what they are going through. Refer them to a mental health professional or general practitioner that can access their mental clarity and treat any behind-the-scenes health concerns such as depression. Become a safe place for them to come to.

Written by Celina Dawdy