It’s self-harm awareness month! While it may be considered a taboo topic in Singapore as many do not know how to facilitate the conversation surrounding the strong emotions disclosed, it is crucial that we learn more about it and have respectful discussions about self harm. Thus, we are then able to better support loved ones who are in emotional distress.

What is Self-Harm?

Self-injury is the intentional behaviour to self-inflict harm and injury on oneself. It is a negative coping mechanism some people adopt to achieve some emotional release for overwhelming internalised feelings of stress, despair or hurt. For some, it is a non-verbal cry for help; a signal that they are going through distress.

Examples of self-harm include [1]:

  • Cutting, sometimes in patterns
  • Burning
  • Scratching
  • Pulling out hair
  • Skin picking

Self-harm is not always about suicide. Self-inflicted scars may be mistaken as suicidal intent, although that is not always the case. Regardless, people who self-harm may escalate to experience suicidal thoughts in addition to self-injuring behaviours. In fact, studies have shown that people who self-harm have a higher risk of attempting or completing suicide.

Identifying Someone Who Self-Harms

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Sometimes, you may find it difficult to identify someone who self-harms as they tend to hide their scars and injuries from others.  Common signs to look out include [2]:

  • Unexplainable injuries like wounds and bruises
  • Wearing of long sleeves/long pants, even in hot weather
  • Frequently carrying or keeping of sharp objects or lighters in one’s bag/room
  • Declarations of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Difficulty in interpersonal relationships

Alternate Ways to Deal with Self-Harm Tendencies

Harm Minimisation Techniques

One may address self-harm tendencies by applying harm minimisation techniques, which aim to reduce the intensity of self-harm. Such techniques include [3]:

  • Scratching
  • Pinching
  • Snapping rubber bands on wrist
  • Drawing or painting red lines on skin
  • Squeezing a stress ball
  • Screaming into or punching a pillow
  • Holding ice
  • Eating sour or spicy tidbits

It should be acknowledged that these techniques do not resolve the underlying causes of emotional turmoil. However, they are helpful for people who want to start somewhere. If you or a loved one are not ready to completely stop self-harming, consider trying these techniques to ease yourself into slowly reducing self-harm frequencies.

Furthermore, note that this is not a long term solution. Ideally, we would should encourage self-harmers to talk to a trusted family member or friend about it. Reconnecting with someone you trust can help build a safe space to understand painful emotions and self-harm triggers.

Emotion-focussed Coping Skills


Emotion-focused coping skills revolve around regulating negative feelings and emotional reactions and responses. Particularly, they are useful for stressors and causes that cannot be changed. For example, exercise, meditating or giving yourself a pep talk help us make sense of our negative thoughts. Hence, we are able to better manage our negative emotions.

Problem-focussed Coping Skills

Problem-focused coping skills focus on handling problems causing emotional distress by facing it head-on and taking action. This helps to resolve the underlying cause of one’s self-harming tendencies. For example, establishing healthy boundaries or asking for support from friends and family helps us resolve our problems with the help of others,

Helping Loved Ones Who Self-Harm

Some of us might feel unsure of how to respond when we discover that a friend or close one is self-harming. In particular, you may wonder what you can do to help, and what support you can offer. However, the important thing is to not feel responsible to “fix” them or to make them happy, but rather to focus on providing support and keeping them safe for the time being. Thus, here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to supporting loved ones who self-harm!

Be supportive and patient: Show understanding for your loved one and try to understand what purpose self-harming serves for them. Be there for them despite their occasional slips. Understand that walking out of self-harm tendencies is a long journey. Ask for promises: While this might be done with good intentions, asking someone to promise you to stop hurting themselves may cause more distress if they feel more coerced or guilt tripped than supported.
Encourage them to seek help: Provide avenues for your loved ones to seek help if they are receptive. This may include introducing them to helplines like the Samaritans of Singapore helpline, counsellors, or even other forms of coping mechanisms and support resources. Label or judge: People who self-harm are worried others will judge them for their scars or label them as suicidal. Doing so will only cause more distress and emotional turmoil.
Build their accountability towards meaningful goals: he more fulfilled individuals feel, the more alternative coping strategies they have access to. Gently direct your loved one’s focus to controllable situations rather than uncontrollable ones. Additionally, help them brainstorm ways in which they can take small steps to move towards who they want to be and what they want to achieve.  Be dismissive: Do not dismiss self-harmers’ worries and concerns as something trivial. Asking them to “cheer up” might also invalidate the intensity of emotions they feel, which they find difficult to get out of.

Sources of Support


If you are struggling with self-harm yourself and do not know who to turn to, here are some support avenues [4]:

Support Helplines

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1 767
  • IMH: 6389 2222
  • National Care Hotline: 1800 202 6868
  • Silver Ribbon: 6386 1928


For a more concise summary of the information presented in this article, check out our self-harm series on our Instagram!