FOCUS ON: Self-Harm – Getting Help (Part 2)

It is often easier said than done but when you are in the depths of despair remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way; whatever is causing this will pass…


Recovering from self-harm

There is no magic formula to get a person to stop self-harming, instead it involves a variety of factors unique to each individual and their circumstances.

For some the need to self-harm diminishes because of changes that occur in their lives – finishing school, moving out of the house, ending a relationship. By removing or changing some of the factors that precipitate the self-harming behaviour (e.g. bullying, family dynamics etc.) the need to use self injuring as a coping mechanism lessens.

Others may find that the turning point for them is the day they find the courage to ask for help – finding a person who will listen without trying to take control of their life, but instead becoming a partner in helping them work on solutions. This is where counselling and other forms of talk therapy can prove very helpful.

The most important thing to remember when recovering is that change takes time – you will have bad days and relapses may occur; be kind to yourself, learn from your experiences and remind yourself that is a marathon not a sprint.


Learn to look after yourself

Regardless of whether you are a self-harmer, a recovering self-harmer or a friend or family member of a self-harmer, everyone needs to take responsibility for and care of their mental health – this includes:

Eat a healthy and balanced diet

Depression, anxiety, restlessness and mood swings – common triggers for self-harming – can all be affected by a person’s diet:

  • Don’t skimp on the carbs – carbohydrates contain non-essential amino acids which assist in the production of serotonin (a natural mood regulator produced in the brain) which in turn assists with curbing mood swings. The trick here is to make smart (i.e. healthy) carbohydrate choices such as: whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and legumes.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – research has found that omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in oily fish (e.g. pilchards), flaxseed and certain nuts (e.g. walnuts) assist in warding off depression, among other health benefits. Try aim for 2 – 3 servings of fish per week.
  • Eat breakfast – eating a healthy, balanced breakfast not only assists in improving your mood but also provides you with energy for the day, aids memory retention and wards off feelings of anxiety and restlessness due to low blood sugar levels.
  • Watch your caffeine intake – caffeine can result in an overstimulated nervous system that can increase anxiety levels; it can also impact on the amount and quality of sleep you get, which in turn will impact on your mood.

Get some exercise

Exercise is often referred to as a natural anti-depressant which is easily and freely available but hugely underutilised. Even moderate exercise is known to assist with reducing anxiety, improving mood and warding off depression.

Limit your alcohol consumption  

Alcohol is a depressant that can affect your mood, feelings and thoughts. Ideally self-harmers should avoid (at best) or limit (at least) their alcohol intake.

Maintain relationships

Friends, family and social interaction are vital to maintaining both your mental and emotional well-being. Keep in touch with family and friends, don’t isolate yourself.

Be kind to yourself

We are our own harshest critics. Many young self-harmers are also high-achievers who put themselves under unrealistic amounts of pressure. Learn to be kind to yourself, speak to and treat yourself as you would your best friend – with compassion and empathy.


Where to find help and more information

Websites and forums

Telephone helplines and counselling

  • SADAG Helpline – 011 234 4837 (8am – 8pm)
  • Suicide Crisis Line – 0800 567 567 / sms 31393 (they will call you back)
  • LifeLine – 0861 322 322 (24 hours)
  • ChildLine – 08000 55 5555 (24 hours)

Face-to-face counselling services

Visit the following websites for a list of counselling services and programmes available in your area:



Richardson, C. (2012). The Truth About Self-Harm: For Young People and Their Friends and Families [Booklet]. United Kingdom: Mental Health Foundation.

WebMD. (2008). How Food Affects Your Mood. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 26 May 2015].