A basic guide to self-harm

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is a way for a person to cope with emotional pain, suffering, stress, or other overwhelming, difficult emotions, through physically harming themselves. One of the most common forms of self-harming is cutting. People who self-harm are not usually trying to end their lives, but to end their emotional pain. How we respond to someone with a mental or emotional health issue makes a huge difference to them. See below for some of the most common things people say or do to someone who is self-harming or has self-harmed that are #notokay.

What is #notokay to say /

do to someone who self-harms

Why you do that to yourself? / What's that on your arm?

Bringing up self-harm scars, especially in a public or group setting, or if you don’t have a close relationship with that person, can make them feel very uncomfortable and is #notokay. Remember this is a sensitive topic, and one that they may not feel comfortable discussing with someone they are not very close with. In general, please refrain from mentioning someone’s self-harm scars. But if you are bringing them up solely out of concern for them– remember to be very sensitive and non-judgmental, to respect that they may not want to talk about it, and to make sure you’re in a private setting.

Only crazy people / mad people do that

The association of anything related to a mental health condition with “madness” or “craziness” is very common in Trinidad and Tobago. This is #notokay to say. It can be extremely harmful to someone who self-harms, or who has self-harmed.

I'm disappointed in you for starting back

While we may hope that by showing our disappointment, we can inspire someone we care about to stop self-harming, statements like these can instead enforce guilt and shame in someone who self-harms.

I would never do something like that / You should know better / Other people have it worse

Any kind of judgmental and comparative statements or actions can cause someone who self-harms to feel ashamed, guilty, and worse about their actions.

Make jokes about it / laugh / belittle what they're going through

This is #notokay at all. We need to be very sensitive when we speak to persons about their self-harm scars, because this is a very sensitive topic.

What you can do / say

Be sensitive and kind

Insensitivity and unkindness to people who have self-harmed may only make them feel worse, and is unlikely to help them stop self-harming. Be non-judgmental when talking to someone about their self-harming. Don’t belittle what they’re going through or what’s leading them to self-harm. Validate their experiences, even if you don’t understand them or can’t relate. Some validating statements sound like “what you’re going through must be so hard”, “I’m proud of you for how hard you’re trying”, “I think you’re brave for surviving all the things you’ve been through”. Don’t pressure them to tell you what’s wrong, but actively listening without judgement can encourage them to open up to you.

Kindly encourage them to seek professional help

One of the ways we can help is to encourage them to speak to a mental health care provider, without judgment or condescension. We can, also, offer to find someone for them  to speak to, and even go with them. Click below to be taken to the directory where there are many links under the “online resources” section that can give you further details on self-harming and how to support someone who self-harms.