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Types of self-harm

There are many different ways people can intentionally harm themselves, such as:

  • cutting or burning their skin
  • punching or hitting themselves
  • poisoning themselves with tablets or toxic chemicals
  • misusing alcohol or drugs
  • deliberately starving themselves (anorexia nervosa) or binge eating (bulimia nervosa)
  • excessively exercising

People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame or fear of it being seen. They may cover up their skin and avoid discussing the problem.

It's often up to close family and friends to notice when somebody is self-harming. They should approach the subject with care and understanding.

It can also include behaviours that have some level of suicide intent, such as overdoses.

Signs of self-harm

If you think a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for signs, including:

  • unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns - usually on the wrists, arms, thighs and chest
  • keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
  • pulling out their hair
  • alcohol or drugs misuse
  • self-loathing and expressing a wish to punish themselves
  • speaking about not wanting to go on and wishing to end it all
  • becoming very withdrawn and not speaking to others
  • changes in eating habits or being secretive about eating
  • unusual weight loss or weight gain
  • signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they're not good enough for something
  • signs of depression, such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything

People who self-harm can seriously hurt themselves. It's important that they speak to a GP about the underlying issue. They should ask for treatment or therapy.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

page last reviewed: 08/10/2018
next review due: 08/10/2021

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