Self Harm

What is Self-Harm?

Some people hurt themselves on purpose to help them deal with bad feelings or thoughts. Self-harm may be the best way they know to survive. People who self-harm don't do it to end their life.

The most common ways to self-harm are:

  • cutting or burning the skin
  • scratching that breaks the skin
  • hitting to the point of bruising or breaking bones
  • biting
  • falling

Here are a few reasons someone might self-harm:

  • to deal with unwanted feelings like anxiety or depression
  • to cope with grief, loss, violence or chronic illness
  • to punish themselves
  • to express feelings of failure, anger or hatred toward themselves
  • to make their emotional pain feel like physical pain
  • to  feel “real”, feel anything or to cope with feeling numb
  • to regain control over their body
  • to just feel better


How do I know if it's self-harm?

It may be hard to tell if someone self-harms. They may try to cover up their injuries because they’re ashamed. Here are a few warning signs:

  • often have  wounds like cuts, burns or bruises that they can’t explain
  • many scars that they can’t explain
  • say that they have many accidents
  • cover their body, even during warm weather

Remember, someone who self-harms doesn’t want to die. But if you aren’t sure your child self-harms or wants to take their life, it’s best to be safe and get help right away.

Who does it affect?

Self-harm is more common in teens (14% to 49%) than in the general population (1% to 4%). This might be because teens:

  • are more likely to feel extreme emotions
  • may have more conflicts with
  • may have to deal with loneliness and peer pressure.

Self-harm can be a sign of mental illness such as


What can be done?

It’s important to talk to your child about self-harm because it can result in a serious injury or become a habit. Self-harm may also be a risk factor for future suicide attempts. Some people self-harm as a result of a mental disorder. That's why it's important to ask the child or youth if they're experiencing any other symptoms.

What can be done about injuries from self-harm?

  • in an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room
  • care for any injuries properly, keep basic first aid supplies on hand
  • see your doctor if you’re not sure what to do
  • in BC, call 811 and talk to a registered nurse

What can be done about self-harm behaviours?

The following treatments may be helpful:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)- teaches how your thoughts and behaviours affect their mood. It may help reduce the feelings that trigger self-harm and may also improve anxiety, depression, self-esteem, problem-solving skills and coping skills.
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) - teaches how to replace extreme and rigid ways of thinking with more flexible ways of thinking. It also teaches skills like acceptance and problem-solving, and can teach your child how to cope with uncomfortable or difficult thoughts, feelings and situations.

Managing self-harm at home

Encourage the child to try new, healthier ways to cope with their feelings. For example:

  • talk to friends
  • write in a journal
  • learn exercises to relax
  • avoid anything that makes self-harm look ‘cool’ (TV shows, movies, etc.)

How can I help my child?

It’s natural to feel shocked, angry, frustrated, confused or guilty when you find out that someone you love self-harms. But remember that self-harm is a sign of distress. The best way to help is to show compassion. Here are other ways to help someone who is self-harming:

  • educate yourself about self-harm
  • avoid anger and judgment. They aren't trying to hurt you, make you feel guilty or get attention
  • focus on their concerns or issues, not the act of self-harm
  • encourage positive, healthy coping methods. It takes time to learn the these skills.
  • don’t demand that your child stop self-harming immediately
  • let your child know that you’re willing to listen, but don’t force them to talk
  • encourage your child to seek professional help

Tips for caregivers:

It’s important to take care of yourself, too. Do things you enjoy, talk with a friend about your own feelings and set boundaries for how much you can help the person you love. It may help if you get support from a mental health professional or support group.


Where to from here? 

Talk to your doctor and look for help from a mental health professional by:

For additional information about options for support and treatment in BC, visit the Finding Help section of our site.

Below you will find some key resources. A full list of resources are on the right hand side bar. 

Self-Harm Quick Reference Sheet
A list of the top websites, books, videos, toolkits and support services.

Self-Harm (Youth in BC)
Information on what is self-harm, why do people self-harm, alternatives to self-harming, tips on how to stop self-harming and self care & support.

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.