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Self-harm diagnosis

There are many different forms of self-harm and they are not always easy to notice.

People who self-harm usually try to keep it a secret from their friends and family and often injure themselves in places that can be hidden easily by clothing.

If you suspect that a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs:

  • unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest
  • keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
  • signs of depression, such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything
  • changes in eating habits or being secretive about eating, and any unusual weight loss or weight gain
  • signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they are not good enough for something
  • signs they have been pulling out their hair
  • signs of alcohol or drug misuse.

The person who is self-harming may feel deep shame and guilt, or may feel confused and worried by their own behaviour. It's important to approach them with care and understanding.

They may not wish to discuss their self-harm with you, but you could suggest that they speak to an anonymous helpline such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or see their doctor.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Diagnosing self-harm)

Last reviewed: August 2015

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