Mental Health Concerns

Self Harm & Suicide

What Is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is the act of inflicting pain or hurting yourself on purpose. The act of self-harm may or may not be paired with suicidal intentions or a plan to take one’s own life.

Why Do Some People Self-Harm?

Self-harm is often used as a way to manage intensely negative moods, emotional pain, or emotional numbness. You might get the urge to self-harm if you are feeling overwhelmed or helpless. It might feel like there is no other way for you to cope with intense feelings like anger, frustration, sadness, and shame.

Self-harming behaviours are most common in youth and young adults who have experienced trauma or have a mental illness like depression. 

You might be engaging in self-harm because it’s hard to express what you’re going through. Self-harming could be a way of physically representing your unhappiness. You may feel alone or isolated like there is no one who can or will understand your concerns. However, there are people out there who will listen to you with no judgement and do everything they can to help you. It can be tough to find those people, though, or even find the energy to reach out.

There are effective ways to allow you to feel in control again – but first thing you need to do is be able to recognize self-harming behaviours.

What Does Self-Harm Look Like?

Self-harm is when people deliberately hurt their bodies. Common forms of self-harm include:

  • Injuring skin
    • e.g., cutting, carving, burning, stabbing the skin with sharp objects or fingernails.
  • Biting themselves
  • Hair pulling
  • Picking at wounds or scars that delay or impede healing
  • Hitting themselves
    • eg., banging or punching your own head

Strategies to Help Manage Self-Harm Behaviours

  • Create a coping toolkit
    • This can be full of things that you can use instead of engaging in self-harm.
    • You can have putty, drawing materials, crafting materials, or a journal to write your thoughts in. Encourage yourself to draw, write or sculpt instead of damaging your body.
    • Check out this video to learn more about a coping toolkit.
  • Distract yourself
    • Engage in something that takes your attention away from the urge to self-harm.
  • Try a TIPP activity
    • TIPP is a therapy-based exercise and stands for “Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, or Paired Muscle Relaxation.”
    • Below is one example of each TIPP activity:
      • Hold a frozen orange or frozen damp rag (Keep one in the freezer!).
      • Do as many jumping jacks as you can in one minute.
      • Try Box Breathing: tense when breathing in, and relax when breathing out.

The most important way to help manage self-harm behaviours is by talking about it with someone.

Talking to someone about your concerns can be scary. You may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid to reach out. However, talking to someone about how you are feeling can help you get support and become connected to respectful allies.

Talk to a person that you trust, whether that is a friend, family member, a teacher or a mentor. Having someone to listen to your struggles can help you feel better. Speaking to someone is often the first step toward getting the right kind of help for you. Discussing your concerns with your family doctor can also help you be connected with extra support.

If you feel like you are not ready to speak with someone you know, you can get confidential and anonymous support through:

Supporting Someone Who May Be Self-Harming

Talking about self-harm to someone you care about can seem daunting or scary. However, if you know someone who may be self-harming, letting them know that you care about them can be an important first step to them feeling better. It can be the first step to that person taking the next steps to improve their mental health.

Reach Out

The first step to helping you care about is to start the conversation with them. This can be tough, however, being open and honest about your concerns.

Here are just some examples of phrases that could be used to start the conversation:

  • “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve been a bit down lately? Just wondering if you are alright?”
  • “Seems like you haven’t been quite yourself lately? Are you okay? I’m here for you if you want to talk.”
  • “We really missed you at D&D last week. Is there something going on? Would you like to talk about it?”

Check out this link below for more ideas on how to start the conversation.

Although we may want to help the people we care about, that they may not be ready to talk about their concerns yet. However, letting them know that you care and are there to support them when they are ready to talk is valuable.

Listen Openly

It can be hard to hear people we care about talk about their pain. Sometimes we may feel sad, or frustrated when hearing people we care about to say things that we may not feel are true. Seek to understand their pain and concerns that lead them to self-harm instead of judging their thoughts or self-harming actions as “wrong.” Listening in a non-judgmental way is crucial in showing support.

Know Your Own Limits and Boundaries

Talking about self-harm can be difficult, for all people involved. The problem might seem too big for you to handle. Know that it is not your responsibility to support them alone. There are many resources available for the person you care about. Know how much support you can offer given your current situation. Remember that you reaching out to them and letting them know that you care is one of the single most important things you can do to help. The supports listed at the bottom are available for you too.

Lastly, do not promise that you will keep their self-harm a secret. Let them know that you are worried about them, which is why you cannot keep it a secret.

Suggest Supports

It’s important to encourage them to reach out to professional services, because that is something you cannot offer. You can start with one of the resources below. If one doesn’t work out for them, suggest they try another option.

What Is Suicide and Suicidal Ideation?

Suicide is the number one health-related cause of death for young people in Canada. It is the deliberate act of ending one’s own life. Suicidal ideation is having thoughts about ending your own life.

Self-Strategies to Help Manage Suicidal Thoughts

  • Create a safety plan with someone you trust.
    • Outline what your warning signs are, reasons to keep living, things in your coping toolkit, what you need to feel safe, and people you can reach out to.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones. Feeling connected and supported can help.
  • Do something that you enjoy.

Reach Out.

Talking to someone about your suicidal thoughts can scary. You may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid to share these thoughts with someone else. Or you may feel like your pain or struggle is too great and that talking to someone may be pointless or futile. However, talking to someone about your suicidal thoughts can often be helpful in feeling connected and supported.

Talk to a person that you trust. Whether that be a friend, family member, or a teacher or mentor. Sometimes having someone to listen to your struggles can be helpful. Speaking to someone is often the first step toward getting the right kind of help for you.

If you feel like you are not ready to speak with someone you know, you can get support through:

These resources are just a start, and if they don’t resonate with you, look for specific mental health resources that serve people with similar identities to you.

Supporting Someone Who May Be Thinking of Suicide

Suicide can be an extremely uncomfortable topic. However, know that people who think about suicide often feel alone and isolated. So, talking to someone who may be thinking about suicide and letting them know you care can be a huge help. It can be the start of them getting the professional help they need and deserve.

Look for Warning Signs

Firstly, trust your gut. If you feel like someone you care about may be thinking about suicide then be prepared to ask.

However, if you are not sure there are some specific signs to look for that might help you recognize if someone may be thinking about suicide:

  • Hearing them say things like: “It doesn’t matter, it’ll all be over soon,” “I don’t think I can go on,” “I don’t think it will ever get better,” “maybe it would be better if I was just gone”.
  • Withdrawing from friends and avoiding people.
  • Using more drugs/alcohol than usual.
  • Engaging in reckless or risky behaviors.
  • Giving away important belongings.
  • Drastic changes in their usual behaviors or mood.

Although these are just some signs to look for, remember that every person is unique and may express their struggles differently.

Ask Directly

It is a myth that asking someone if they are having thoughts of suicide puts the idea into their head. This is not true. Asking directly is the best way to let the person answer openly and honestly without avoiding the question.

Ask the suicide question directly:

“Are you thinking about ending your life?” or “Have you thought about suicide?”

If they say yes, the question below can help figure out if emergency services may need to be involved.

  • “Have you thought about how you would end your life?”
    • This question asks about the PLAN. The more detailed the plan, the more likely the person has seriously thought about dying by suicide.
  • “Have you thought about this plan and intended to act on them?
    • This asks about their intent, or how likely, they are to follow through with their suicide plan.
  • “Have you thought about when you might do this?”
    • This question gives us a timeline of when they plan on ending their life.
  • “What is keeping you alive?”
    • This can identify their reasons to continue to live,  which is important to explore. Oftentimes, when someone is thinking of suicide, they may not want to end their life necessarily, but the pain they feel.

These questions give us an idea of how urgent their need for support is. For example, for someone who intends to follow their plan in the immediate future, getting extra help is crucial.

However, these questions can be very difficult to ask someone that we care about. Knowing how much support you are able to offer is important too. Additionally, if you are concerned about how to have this conversation, you can reach your local Alberta Based Crisis Lines, to get guidance from a trained supportive listener volunteer who can guide you step-by-step, and discuss other options available.

Listen and Believe Them

Listen to and validate their struggles. Acknowledging their pain and tough emotions is an important part of helping them feel connected and understood. Something as simple as “that sounds so painful” can help a lot.

Very rarely someone will lie about wanting to end their own life. Believing them is understanding the pain and suffering they feel as well.

Suggest Supports

There are many supports available for those who are thinking about suicide. Check out this page for more information on free youth mental health services that you or a loved one can access through our virtual clinic, Kickstand Connect.

Though the list below is just a start, encourage them to connect with one of the resources below. If these resources don’t resonate with them, use resources like search engines or Kids Help Phone’s Resources Around Me Tool to find support that works for you or the people you care about.


How to Help a Friend who is Self-Injuring, Foundry BC

Self-Harm and Youth (alberta.ca)

Emma Evans, Keith Hawton, Karen Rodham, In what ways are adolescents who engage in self-harm or experience thoughts of self-harm different in terms of help-seeking, communication and coping strategies?, Journal of Adolescence, Volume 28, Issue 4, 2005, Pages 573-587, ISSN 0140-1971, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2004.11.001.

What You Need To Know About Self Harm, Headspace

Seize the Awkward

Healthline – How to Help a Suicidal Friend

Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Suicide Risk Assessment

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact emergency services (9-1-1) now.