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Warning Signs of Self Harming

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 12 Mar 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Self Harming self Harm self Harmer

Anyone could be a self harmer and because there is no accepted, stereotypical profile of a self harmer it means that knowing some of the warning signs might be the only way to deduce if someone is engaging in self harming behaviours. Watching for warning signs can be complicated, however, since self harmers typically carry out their behaviours in secret and go to long lengths to keep others from seeing evidence of their activities. If you are concerned about someone self harming, think about the warning signs below and consider seeking professional help for the person if it seems likely that a loved one could be self harming.

Warning Signs of Self Harming

Very often people think of self harming simply as cutting, or an individual literally cutting their own skin such as with a knife, razor or scissors. Unfortunately self harming includes many more behaviours as well. Poisoning, intentional overdosing, head banging, burning oneself and other acts of self injury and/or self mutilation can all come under the umbrella term of self harming. Warning signs for specific behaviours may be particular to that behaviour, though common signs may include:

  • Unexplained cuts and bruises on the body.
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants, even in warm weather.
  • Secrecy, such as keeping a specific drawer locked or hiding specific items.
  • A breakdown in typical communication.
  • Mood changes or mood swings.
  • Changes in eating patterns.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns.
  • Changes in socialising patterns.
  • Evidence of drug or medical paraphernalia.
  • Evidence of carrying unnecessary sharp objects, matches or lighters.
  • Poor performance or results at school or work.
  • Loss of interest in favourite hobbies or sports.

Risk Factors of Self Harming

A number of risk factors may also increase the likelihood of an individual engaging in self harming behaviours, particularly if these risk factors are known to others and are present in conjunction with common warning signs. Common risk factors related to self harming include:

  • A history of being bullied.
  • A history of sexual abuse.
  • A history of physical abuse.
  • A history of neglect.
  • Mental illness in the family.
  • Substance abuse in the family.
  • Depression.

Stress and Self Harming

Stress in any of its many forms may lead to or exacerbate self harming behaviours in that the individual may find self harming a means of “letting go” or coping with an increase in stress. Common stressors for young people include exams, fitting in, romantic relationships, being selected for a sports team or dramatic production, navigating independence, getting in or going to university, attempting to plan the future and/or choosing a career. Individuals who show evidence of, or fit risk factors for, self harming should be observed closely during times of high stress to ensure their own safety.

Getting Help for Self Harming

Medical and mental health professionals should all be able to provide further information on self harming and advice for specific cases. Many organisations also exist which can offer further information and support, including Childline (www.childline.org.uk), the National Self Harm Network (www.nshn.co.uk), the Samaritans (www.samaritans.org.uk) and Young Minds (www.youngminds.org.uk), a charity devoted to mental health issues as they affect young people. Many self harmers will deny that they have a problem and may well deny that they need any sort of help or treatment, so parents and other concerned adults may need to take the lead in enlisting professional support.

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[Add a Comment]
dobby - Your Question:
My doctor said I cant go near scisors or sharpeners should I tell my teachers or just leave it

Our Response:
If your doctor has advised you do not go near sharp implements and it is in your best interests not to do so, then it is worthwhile informing your teachers.
TeenIssues - 13-Mar-17 @ 12:57 PM
my doctor said i cant go near scisors or sharpeners should i tell my teachers or just leave it
dobby - 12-Mar-17 @ 5:02 PM
When I'm stressed or annoyed I would scratch my self until it goes red and numb. Is this self harm ?
Jane - 6-Mar-17 @ 8:03 PM
Hi guys. I was a self harmer. I started at 14 and I turn 24 next month. I stopped about 4 years ago but I am here to say be strong. You don't want to get to my age and have scars, but none of that negativity that made you cause them. Imagine what you are feeling right now as a cloud. And it will pass, and you will be so thankful you didn't give up. Be strong x
Hayhay - 15-Feb-17 @ 1:03 AM
Holly - Your Question:
I'm only 11 but I always pick my scabs until I bleed and sometimes just make scabs on purpose so that I can pick them because it makes me feel rather in control of at least something. I have scabs on my arms and on my chest and on the top of my head, but my hair hides it. I'm feeling very stressed at the moment, is it because of this and am I actually self-harming or as my friends say it doing it because I'm bored

Our Response:
Regardless of the reasons why you or your friends think you are self harming, you should really talk to a professional who will help you to better understand your reasons and help you to try to stop. You can see about skin picking via the Anxiety UK link here . Stress can very much be a contributory factor, please see the Young Minds link here.Therefore, you may wish to speak to your school's counsellor, your GP, or a teacher, or your parents - all of who will be able to help you further.
TeenIssues - 14-Feb-17 @ 11:00 AM
Emily "Chara" Dreemu - Your Question:
I went a really long time without cutting, then I used the blade of a pair of scissors to cut myself, I also have depression. Who should I talk to, and what can I do to prevent future cutting episodes?

Our Response:
Do you have a school's counsellor? Or your teacher/doctor will help you. Anyone in authority will do their best to guide you and/or point you in the right direction regarding helping you to resolve this issue.
TeenIssues - 13-Feb-17 @ 10:39 AM
I'm only 11 but I always pick my scabs until I bleed and sometimes just make scabs on purpose so that I can pick them because it makes me feel rather in control of at least something. I have scabs on my arms and on my chest and on the top of my head, but my hair hides it. I'm feeling very stressed at the moment, is it because of this and am I actually self-harming or as my friends say it doing it because I'm bored
Holly - 13-Feb-17 @ 9:36 AM
I went a really long time without cutting, then I used the blade of a pair of scissors to cut myself, I also have depression. Who should I talk to, and what can I do to prevent future cutting episodes?
Emily "Chara" Dreemu - 12-Feb-17 @ 4:13 AM
@gen - she is obviously worried about you. You shouldn't be cutting and you need to get help, not try and find ways around other places to cut. Get HELP!
HannahU - 6-Feb-17 @ 12:50 PM
Im 12 and i have recently started cutting but my mum found out an instead of being worried about what she will say i can only think about where i can cut so she wont notice bcause she said she is going to cgeck my arms and legs.
gem - 5-Feb-17 @ 11:04 PM
@Hanna - just ask her directly! Gem.
RosieRo. - 31-Jan-17 @ 12:52 PM
My friend cut her wrists 4/5 times recently but she never wears long sleeved tops or jumpers she always has short sleeved tops on and no jacket, i don't know what to say to her because I don't know if she's doing it for attention, What should I say to her?
Hanna - 30-Jan-17 @ 9:09 PM
My friend has cuts on her wrist, she almost always wears long sleeves, however, this is the first time i noticed this. Today she was wearing a sweatshirt and put it around her waist and stuck her hands in her sleeves. However, her sleeve fell off when we were working together on our Spanish assignment and I noticed cuts on her wrist, she has 2 cats, so at first i suspected that but she looked alarmed and pulled her hand down quickly and said "you didn't see anything did you!?" I said "no" even though I was lying and now feel very worried about her. Please help me!
Cattails17 - 20-Jan-17 @ 10:37 PM
Angel??? - Your Question:
Well I started cutting in august due to being seually abused in June I've cut my arms my legs. I'm suffering from depression and only my 2 closest friends now what ive been doing but I've only recently told them. I want to be able to tell family to get help but I feel like there going to say I've been attention seeking or something I feel like I never have anyone to talk to. Each night for the past few months I've cried myself to sleep because of the stress of not telling anyone??????

Our Response:
If you have been sexually abused, and you are harming as a result, then it is in your best interests to speak to someone about the abuse and your self harm in order to get advice on your options and way forward. Although childhood sexual abuse can be devastating, it is possible to get over its effects. Many people say that the most important thing in helping them to do this has been to talk about what has happened to them. Please see link here. You may wish to speak to the NSPCC in the first instance, please see link here. Please do not feel you are 'attention seeking' if you have been sexually abused, you certainly aren't and I advise you speak to your parents about this asap. I hope this helps.
TeenIssues - 20-Dec-16 @ 12:27 PM
brax - Your Question:
Uh hey. im nearly 15 and have been self harming since I was 10 all over my legs, arms and even my chest and stomach. my mother sees the cuts and scars, but claims im seeking attention. ive been reading articles on self harm to figure out the best way to explain to her whats going on with me, but she just wont listen when I tell her im sad. I was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety and ocd when I was younger, but that's the only time my mom cared about my mental stability. how do I tell her this isnt me needing attention and that im in serious danger?

Our Response:
In this case you may wish to speak to the MIND charity, please see link here to obtain some further advice on the best way to approach your mother.
TeenIssues - 20-Dec-16 @ 12:02 PM
Well I started cutting in august due to being seually abused in June I've cut my arms my legs. I'm suffering from depression and only my 2 closest friends now what ive been doing but I've only recently told them. I want to be able to tell family to get help but I feel like there going to say I've been attention seeking or something I feel like I never have anyone to talk to. Each night for the past few months I've cried myself to sleep because of the stress of not telling anyone??????
Angel??? - 20-Dec-16 @ 1:19 AM
uh hey. im nearly 15 and have been self harming since i was 10 all over my legs, arms and even my chest and stomach. my mother sees the cuts and scars, but claims im seeking attention. ive been reading articles on self harm to figure out the best way to explain to her whats going on with me, but she just wont listen when i tell her im sad. i was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety and ocd when i was younger, but that's the only time my mom cared about my mental stability. how do i tell her this isnt me needing attention and that im in serious danger?
brax - 19-Dec-16 @ 10:44 PM
I'm 13 and I started cutting after I first accidentally cut my self while cooking. It felt good to relieve all the stress I was getting from family and friends. They say how I have to look after everyone and to be like my older sister. I don't know if I have depression or something else. I most of the time like to say on my own and most of the time it's a battle to get my blade or not. I come from a Asian family so it's difficult to even talk about it. My mother won't understand, my older sibling will shout and just tell me to stop. I cant tell my friends or they will think I'm a freak. There isn't really anyone to tell. What do I do when I'm completely alone?
Madi3 - 18-Dec-16 @ 1:39 AM
I started self harming when I was about eight, that's the farthest I can remember doing it. I remember going home from school limping because of some bad infection I'd gotten. I used to clip my toe nails so far that I drew blood. I did this for all ten of my toes. I didn't know that it was self harm at the time, but when I was about 14, I started cutting. 2 years later, I still do both the toe nail and the cutting thing. I've told my mom. I've asked for help. I showed her my scars when she asked to see them and even told her that I did 't want to be here anymore. She told my father since they tell each other everything, but instead of helping me and making sure I felt better, my dad threatened to divorce my mom if I did it again because if I was self harming, they she didn't care about her children since she wasn't watching my sister and I as close as we needed to be watched. He yelled at me, and even went on making fun of me whenever I did anything out of the ordinary. My sister even scratched my wrist once when we were fighting (I'd been clean for about 5 months at the time) and proceeded to make fun of me, implying that I'd cut myself in order to get those scratches. I don't know what to do anymore. I've relapsed recently after 8 months clean and I just don't think I can take it anymore. I need help and my parents refuse to get me it. It's not as if we're short on money: they sent me to a speech therapist (stuttering problem) even though the doctor who recommended me to that therapist advised my parents to take me to a psychologist instead. I can't go anywhere without them, they always have to be at my side when I'm not at home. I'm simply not allowed out without them. I need help. Any advice? Please, I need it.
Brit - 12-Dec-16 @ 5:25 AM
Amelia - Your Question:
I started cutting when I was seven. I don't know exactly why I did it, but I remember the sense of relief it gave me. I engaged in this behaviour on and off until I was 12 - I would do it multiple times a day for a few weeks and then not pick up a blade for months at a time. From that age on I did it daily. At school, home, public bathrooms - wherever I happened to be at the time I craved the feeling. 2 months ago (aged 15) I promised myself that I would never do it again as I was already covered with scars alone scars. Amazingly, to this day no one has found out because I never cut my arms because that was the place my psychiatrists and parents always check. Anyway so today I was using the stove and accidentally burnt my hand. At first I pulled away because I was suprised but a few seconds later I did it again. Only this time it was on purpose. Because it was in the kitchen and my mother and sister were just about to walk into the room, I went into my room and burned myself with a lighter and assortment of metal objects (heated). I am 16 tommorow and all I can think about is finding time to do it more. In a way I hate that I relapsed after a 2 month SH-free streak but also the relief that I felts so I was (and am now) reminds me why it was so hard to stop in the first place. After 8 1/2 years as much as it seems strange, it has been part of my life for so long that I can never see myself not engaging in. If only I hadn't picked up the blade the day after being released from a psych ward at age 7, who knows I might not have made it to this website.

Our Response:
I am very sorry to hear this. It will help you, if you can seek help,which is what you need to do in order to try and put a halt to this. Regardless of whether you have stopped for a couple of months, you obviously still have issues with the compulsive side to self-harming. If you have the right support, anyone who is reliant on self-injury but doesn’t want to be, can learn new coping methods and break free from the psychological reliance. The episode in your kitchen acted as a trigger, which means although you have successfully avoided huring yourself for two months, there are still issues there which need to be resolved. Therefore, I urge you to speak to your therapist or GP, to ensure you get the help and support you need. You have shown you can step-back from self-harming, but with a little extra help and some tools will mean you can take it to the next level in trying to break this habit altogether. There are people out there that wish to help you, you just have to be brave and ask for their help.
TeenIssues - 5-Dec-16 @ 12:15 PM
I started cutting when I was seven. I don't know exactly why I did it, but I remember the sense of relief it gave me. I engaged in this behaviour on and off until I was 12 - I would do it multiple times a day for a few weeks and then not pick up a blade for months at a time. From that age on I did it daily. At school, home, public bathrooms - wherever I happened to be at the time I craved the feeling. 2 months ago (aged 15) I promised myself that I would never do it again as I was already covered with scars alone scars. Amazingly, to this day no one has found out because I never cut my arms because that was the place my psychiatrists and parents always check. Anyway so today I was using the stove and accidentally burnt my hand. At first I pulled away because I was suprised but a few seconds later I did it again. Only this time it was on purpose. Because it was in the kitchen and my mother and sister were just about to walk into the room, I went into my room and burned myself with a lighter and assortment of metal objects (heated). I am 16 tommorow and all I can think about is finding time to do it more. In a way I hate that I relapsed after a 2 month SH-free streak but also the relief that I felts so I was (and am now) reminds me why it was so hard to stop in the first place. After 8 1/2 years as much as it seems strange, it has been part of my life for so long that I can never see myself not engaging in. If only I hadn't picked up the blade the day after being released from a psych ward at age 7, who knows I might not have made it to this website.
Amelia - 4-Dec-16 @ 2:52 PM
Chucky - Your Question:
I'm only 13 and I started self harm with a razor 2 days ago and already have 14 cuts/grazes I told my mum that I had depression but I don't think she took it seriously, what do I do?

Our Response:
Did you tell your mum about your self-harming? If you didn't you may want to confide to her about this, as it will make a difference as your mum may not have registered quite how depressed you are. You need to either sit down with your mum and ask her for help with your situation. Or at least speak with someone who can give you some advice i.e your doctor, teacher, close relation or a trustworthy good friend.
TeenIssues - 28-Nov-16 @ 11:09 AM
I'm only 13 and I started self harm with a razor2 days ago and already have 14 cuts/grazes I told my mum that I had depression but I don't think she took it seriously, what do I do?
Chucky - 27-Nov-16 @ 6:07 AM
Lost in thought - Your Question:
I'm in the 7th grade, and I have really bad depression. Nobody that I know in real life knows about it except for my best friend. I started self harming in the summer. It started off with scratching my arms with pencils, and then cutting the skin on my fingers, and now I cut with heavy-duty exacto knife blades on my thighs. I'm bisexual, and I always feel like crap for having a huge crush on the best friend that knows. She cuts, too, and she has a girlfriend. I don't know what to do.

Our Response:
You may wish to speak to someone who can make sense of the confusion you are currently feeling.Childline may help - please see link here . They can also talk to you about finding your sexual identity here. I hope this helps.
TeenIssues - 11-Nov-16 @ 10:21 AM
I'm in the 7th grade, and I have really bad depression. Nobody that I know in real life knows about it except for my best friend. I started self harming in the summer. It started off with scratching my arms with pencils, and then cutting the skin on my fingers, and now I cut with heavy-duty exacto knife blades on my thighs. I'm bisexual, and I always feel like crap for having a huge crush on the best friend that knows. She cuts, too, and she has a girlfriend. I don't know what to do.
Lost in thought - 10-Nov-16 @ 3:14 AM
Jess - Your Question:
I've recently started self harming but don't want anyone to know as it's not that serious. I'm just doing it to let out my own frustrations, I'm not in any way suicidal. I was just wondering if self harming could cause me to not be able to be a counsellor when I'm older? As they may think I'm too unstable? Also, it's on my wrist so how should I cover it up?

Our Response:
Self-harming will not affect your career as a counsellor, if this is the route you wish to take. Even though you do not think your own self-harming is 'serious' - it is always wise to speak to someone if you are feeling the need to self-harm. You will not be judged and if you feel you do not wish to speak with someone you know, one of the listed helplines will be able to help.
TeenIssues - 1-Nov-16 @ 2:02 PM
I've recently started self harming but don't want anyone to know as it's not that serious. I'm just doing it to let out my own frustrations, I'm not in any way suicidal. I was just wondering if self harming could cause me to not be able to be a counsellor when I'm older? As they may think I'm too unstable? Also, it's on my wrist so how should I cover it up?
Jess - 29-Oct-16 @ 4:01 PM
Abby- Your Question:
I've self harmed off and on but not consistently until a few days now.I have attempted to tell my father about my depressing feeling and hinted self ham but,he quickly forgot about it.Im thinking about telling my school councilor however I just dot want to get everyone involved and everyone worried and all the questions.I want help then I don't.Like I don know who I would be if depression and anxiety wasn't in my life.Which I know it will never truly be gone.What should I do?

Our Response:
If you feel the need to have to speak to someone, then you should. You may wish to remind your father and ask him to assist you in finding help. If you have a school counsellor, then he/she would also be advisable to approach. Remember anything you say to the school counsellor will remain confidential, so you do not have to worry about getting others involved. Telephone helplines such as Mind will also help you talk through your issues, please see link here. I hope this helps.
TeenIssues - 5-Oct-16 @ 1:59 PM
I've self harmedoff and on but not consistently until a few days now.I have attempted to tell my father about my depressing feeling and hinted self ham but,he quickly forgot about it.Im thinking about telling my school councilor however I just dot want to get everyone involved and everyone worried and all the questions.I want help then I don't.Like I don know who I would be if depression and anxiety wasn't in my life.Which I know it will never truly be gone.What should i do?
Abby - 5-Oct-16 @ 1:16 AM
Jjj - Your Question:
I have started cutting for about a months now. ( just want to say that I suffer from an anxiety disorder that was diagnosed by doctors) It started about 2 months ago when I told my mom I though I was depressed (which I was felt for about 6 mouths to a year already) and she said she didn't think so and kept on comparing me to herself. I was so sad that she wouldn't believe me and I was sad because I realized how alone I was in this. so I ran in the bathroom and cut. (There was no blood) I kept on doing it when I was sad, but I never cut to blood. A month ago I had a panic attack and cried a lot. Then I cut myself with a razor to blood. It wasn't a lot of blood, it never is. Just enough so that it hurts but it won't kill me. (I DO NOT want to die so I never do it deep, I just want it to bleed) I don't know what to do. I don't know if my parents will believe me or yell at me. I don't know if or if I can't stop, I haven't tried to stop. The pain helps me cope better with my sadness and school, and if I feel "stupid" "ugly" or "sad" I look forward to doing it. (I am not bullied at school. I am actually quite popular but I still somehow hate school.) What should I do? I just want to be normal and I hate myself for the fact that I am not normal kid. And I know If I tell my parents, everything will change and I won't be "normal" anymore. What should I do? Please help.

Our Response:
I am sorry you feel so alone in all of this and it would really be better for you to share this with someone you can trust. Do you have any other family members you can speak to, or a teacher at school? If not, MIND will be able to help and advise, please see link here. You can also go and visit your doctor without your mum's authorisation and your doctor will also be able to help, especially if you have already been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. It may also be time to sit down again with your mum and explain what you are going through and that you need her to listen.
TeenIssues - 26-Sep-16 @ 12:39 PM
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