Self Injury

Self Injury

People cope with difficult thoughts, feelings, or situations in different ways. Some people cope by injuring themselves on purpose — and it may be the only way for them to feel better.

What is self-injury? Self-injury means that someone hurts themself on purpose but doesn’t intend to end their life. Common acts of self-injury include cutting skin, burning skin, hitting yourself to the point of injury, and preventing wounds from healing. Self-injury itself isn’t a mental illness but may be a sign that someone needs care and support. People self-injure for many different reasons, including:

  • To cope with anxiety or depression
  • To cope with loss, trauma, violence, or other difficult situations
  • To ‘punish’ themselves
  • To turn emotional pain into physical pain
  • To feel ‘real’ and counter feelings of emptiness or numbness
  • To feel euphoria
  • To regain control of their bodies
  • To simply feel better

What can I do about it?

If you self-injure, it’s important to begin talking with someone you trust. This could be a friend, a family member, one of our Wellness Support Specialists, or anyone you feel comfortable talking with. Your support person can help you work through the next steps, like talking with a doctor or other health care professional. If you self-injure, it’s important to take care of your injuries. If you’re worried about an injury, talk to your doctor, go to your local emergency room, or call 9-1-1. You should be treated with respect no matter how you received the injury.

If self-injury isn’t related to a mental illness, it’s still best to talk with a mental health professional. Your doctor can recommend a counsellor who can help you. They can help you work through the thoughts, feelings, or situations behind self-injury, teach you skills to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings, and help you find alternatives to self-injury. It can also be very helpful to connect with support groups where you can share your own experiences and learn from others, and help you connect with people who understand what you’re going through. Other activities you can do to help yourself are: connecting with family and friends, eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and spending time on things you enjoy.

How can I help a loved one?

If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it’s okay to ask about self-injury. Talking about self-injury won’t make someone start hurting themselves. It’s a good idea to learn more about self-injury before you start the conversation. It can be difficult to hear what your loved one has to say. Self-injury may not make sense to you and you may wonder why someone would hurt themself, but your loved one’s feelings are very real. Learning more can help you give support that respects your loved one’s experiences. Here are a few more tips for helping a loved one:

  • Instead of focusing on your loved one’s self-injury behaviours, it may be more helpful to focus on your concern for their well-being.
  • Don’t demand that your loved one immediately stop self-injuring. New healthy behaviours take time to learn. Instead, focus on supporting new behaviours and celebrate your loved one’s small steps forward.
  • Avoid guilt, shame or judgement—these can get in the way of open and trusting relationships.
  • Seek help or support for yourself, if you need it.

Some people cope by injuring themselves on purpose — and it may be the only way for them to feel better.

Thoughts of Suicide

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. Suicide may seem like the only way to deal with difficult feelings or situations, but it really isn’t. It’s important to talk about your experiences with your doctor, mental health care team, or any other person you trust. They can help you learn skills to cope and connect you to useful groups or resources. Other things that you can do include:

  • Call a crisis telephone support line
    – Mobile Crisis Service (24 hours): 204-940-1781
    – Klinic Crisis Line (24 hours): 204-786-8686
    – Manitoba Suicide Line (24 hours): 1-877-435-7170
  • Reach out and connect with one of our Wellness Specialists at 1-877-602-1660 or
  • Connecting with family, friends, or a support group. It can be helpful to talk with others who have experienced thoughts of suicide to learn about their coping strategies

If you’re in crisis and aren’t sure what to do, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room.

Some people find a safety plan useful. A safety plan is a list of personal strategies to use if you think you are at risk of hurting or ending your life. You can create a plan on your own, with a loved one, or with your mental health care team. Your plan may include:

  • Activities that calm you or take your mind off your thoughts
  • Your own reasons for living
  • Key people to call if you’re worried about your safety
  • Phone numbers for local crisis or suicide prevention helplines
  • A list of safe places to go if you don’t feel safe at home

How can I help a loved one?

Suicide is a difficult topic to bring up. However, when someone talks about suicide or you think they may be considering it, it’s important to take action and seek help quickly. If you’re concerned about someone else, talk with them. Ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide. Talking about suicide won’t give them the idea. If someone is seriously considering suicide, they may be relieved that they can talk about it.

If someone you love says that they are thinking about ending their life, it’s important to ask them if they have a plan. If they have a plan and intend to end their life soon, connect with crisis services or supports right away or call 9-1-1. Stay with your loved one while you make the call, and don’t leave until the crisis line or emergency responders say you can leave.

Here are tips for talking with a loved one:

  • Find a private place and let your loved one take as much time as they need.
  • Take your loved one seriously and listen without judgment; their feelings are very real.
  • Keep your word – don’t make a promise you can’t keep or don’t intend to keep.
  • Tell your loved ones that they are important and that you care about them.

The two most important things you can do are listen and help them connect with mental health services.

It’s important to talk about your experiences with your doctor, mental health care team, or any other person you trust.

Web Resources




Wait: A Love Letter to Those in Despair

By: Cuong Lu
Encourages us to seek out a path to peace and freedom from suffering. To interrupt the cycle of violence and create a world where love and understanding thrive. You are the calm of the ocean, not the pounding wave. The tumultuous, confusing, and unbearable feelings that arise in life will never overtake your true essence and the peace you can find below the surface.

Reasons to Stay Alive

By: Matt Haig
This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.

The Recovery Letters: Addressed to People Experiencing Depression

by Olivia Sagan
Addressed to 'Dear You', the inspirational and heartfelt letters provided hope and support to those experiencing depression and were testament that recovery was possible.

Life After Suicide: Finding Courage, Comfort, and Community After Unthinkable Loss

by Jennifer Ashton
Part memoir and part comforting guide that incorporates the latest insights from researchers and health professionals, this book is both a call to arms against this dangerous, devastating epidemic, and an affecting story of personal grief and loss

The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide

by Brandy Lidbeck
Comes alongside loss survivors and helps navigate the common pitfalls for those left behind. It offers hope and encouragement to guide survivors through this desperate time. 

Shattered: From Grief to Joy After My Son’s Suicide

by Rebecca Tervo
Tervo is a memoir of surviving her 17 year old son’s death by suicide, and how she navigates the process of grief, her marriage and finding her way back to life.

Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-comic Memoir

by Adam Cayton-Holland
This book is a revelatory, darkly funny, and poignant tribute to a lost sibling who died by suicide, and those left behind.


The Psychology of Self-Injury: Exploring Self-Harm & Mental Health with Nicholas J. Westers

Clinical psychologist Dr. Nicholas Westers of the International Society for the Study of Self-Injury (ISSS) interviews the leading experts in the field of self-injury and self-harm as well as individuals with lived experience of self-injury and parents and family members of those who have self-injured. This podcast is meant to be a resource for parents, professionals, and people with lived experience.

Before You Kill Yourself Podcast with Leo Flowers

A suicide prevention podcast. TEDx speaker, Leo Flowers has a Masters in Counseling/Psychology and is a stand-up comedian, so he knows exactly why he's depressed. Join him while he interviews other mental health experts, comedians and best-selling book authors as they destigmatize mental health and teach you how to thrive.