Let’s Talk About Self Harm, by Scott Williams

We have probably all known someone who uses self harming as a coping mechanism but we don’t always know how to talk about.

So let’s talk about it.

Self harm is one of many ways that people sometimes cope with challenging feelings, thoughts, or events. Self harm refers to someone hurting themselves on purpose without intending to end their life. Types of self harm might include cutting or burning skin, hitting one’s self, or preventing wounds from healing or it might include someone not eating or sleeping. There are many different reasons that someone might self harm, including: to cope with anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, or abuse; to regain control over their body; to “punish” themselves; to turn emotional pain into physical pain; or sometimes to feel better.

Though people who self harm are not trying to end their lives, they might experience suicidal thoughts. Increasingly, studies confirm that suicidal ideation and behaviour are disproportionately higher amongst LGBTQ+ youth (egale). This may be because LGBTQ+ youth often deal with higher levels of stress than their straight and cisgender peers, due to homo/bi/transphobia.

People who self harm might feel ashamed about it and avoid talking about it. They often try to hide the behaviour. Some warning signs that someone might be self harming include: unexplained scars or injuries; wearing long pants and long-sleeves all the time, even in hot weather; low self-esteem or problems with managing their emotions; and problems with relationships.

Encouraging someone to talk about it can be difficult but is important.  Speaking with a counsellor can help a person who is self harming to understand why they are doing it. A counsellor can help someone develop a plan to stop harming themselves. Remember that we provide free counselling to LGBTQ+ youth in Waterloo Region. Call 519.884.0000 to book an appointment, or visit our Walk In Counselling Clinic on Thursdays between 12-6pm. You can also connect with the LGBT Youthline either by phone, text, or chat. Visit their website at

If you think a friend or family member might be harming themselves you can ask the person how they are feeling and try to discuss the issues that they are dealing with. If they are reluctant to speak with you, just let them know that you are there to listen. You can also suggest they look into counselling or make use of the LGBT Youthline. It is important not to be judgemental or make the person feel guilty about how their behaviour might be affecting you or others. Respect the person and be compassionate even though you might not understand the reason for their self harming.

The OK2BME Team here at KW Counselling Services is available to help you. We can support you in healing and learning alternative coping mechanisms that are less harmful.