The Risks of Self-Harm and the Role of Psychiatry

Henna Geronimo
September 8, 2023

Have you ever wondered what the role of psychiatry is in helping people with suicidal ideation? In this article, we'll take a close look at this important topic

Ever felt so overwhelmed that you just wanted to scream into a pillow? That's an emotional release. Now imagine if the only release someone knew was causing pain to themselves. It's a tough pill to swallow, but self-harm is this raw, silent shout from within—a plea for understanding and help. It's often spurred by underlying mental health disorders.

But with the help of psychiatry, people can find better ways to share their feelings and heal. It's like a bridge that connects deep pain to natural healing. By exploring self-harm prevention and caring psychological treatments, we'll highlight the essential role of psychiatry in this post.

Source: Roots Mental Wellness

Why Do People Self-Harm?

Self-harm is a way for individuals to cope with painful emotions, intense stress, or overwhelming situations. For some, it provides a temporary relief from emotional pain by creating a physical one. Others may use it as a means to feel "alive" when they're emotionally numb.

It's also possible that self-harming acts as a form of self-punishment for perceived faults or guilt. Regardless of the reason, self-harm is often a symptom of deeper emotional distress.

The Risks and Impacts of Self-Harm

Self-harm affects people in many ways. Let's look at the physical, mental, and social challenges it brings.

Physical Risks

Wounds and Scarring

One of the usual risks of self-harming behaviors is physical damage to the body. It can lead to significant wounds, which may become infected if not appropriately treated. Over time, repeated self-harming can result in permanent scarring.


Open wounds are susceptible to bacterial infections if not cleaned and cared for. These infections can become systemic in severe cases, affecting the entire body.

Accidental Over-harm

What starts as a superficial wound might become more severe than intended. It could lead to dangerous levels of blood loss or damage to vital organs.


For those who self-harm using drugs or pills, there's a risk of accidental overdose, which can be fatal.


Psychological Impacts

Emotional Dependence

Over time, an individual might rely on self-harm as their primary coping mechanism, making it even more challenging to break the cycle.

Increased Feelings of Shame and Guilt

Engaging in self-harm can lead to feelings of shame and guilt.

Worsening Mental Health Conditions

It can aggravate underlying mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder.

Social Consequences


Those who self-harm might isolate themselves from friends and family out of fear of judgment, leading to loneliness.

Misunderstanding and Stigmatization

The public often misunderstands self-harm. Individuals who self-harm may face stigmatization or encounter people who misinterpret their actions, believing them to be mere attention-seeking.

Strained Relationships

The discovery of self-harming behaviors can strain relationships with loved ones. They might feel helpless or frustrated about not knowing how to assist.

therapeutic intervention
Source: Roots Mental Wellness

The Role of Psychiatry in Self-Harm

Psychiatry offers therapeutic intervention and other tools to address the challenges of self-harm. This includes:

Assessment and Diagnosis

Before effective treatment can begin, one must understand the root cause of the problem. Psychiatrists dive deep. They look for triggers and issues contributing to self-harming behaviors. 

Using a combination of clinical assessments, patient histories, and sometimes even neuropsychological tests, they pinpoint the factors at play. This precise diagnosis paves the way for a personalized treatment plan tailored to the individual's situation.


Not all cases of self-harm arise purely from external triggers; sometimes, it’s due to an underlying mental condition. In these instances, psychiatrists might prescribe medications to help regulate mood, reduce impulsivity, or address other relevant symptoms.


Medication alone often isn't the answer. Therapy plays a valuable role, whether it's one-on-one counseling, group sessions, or specific modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Through these sessions, individuals gain insight into their behaviors, learn healthier coping strategies, and develop skills to combat the urge to self-harm.


Knowledge is power. Psychiatrists empower patients and their families by providing information about self-harm. By understanding its risks, recognizing early warning signs, and learning supportive interventions, everyone becomes proactive participants in the recovery journey.

Community Resources

Recovery doesn't end at the psychiatrist's door. Connecting patients to local support groups, workshops, or helplines ensures a sustained support system. These resources act as a safety net, providing ongoing encouragement, understanding, and assistance.


Common Signs of Self-Harm

It's not always easy to spot when someone is hurting themselves. Some clear indicators can be visible cuts or bruises, especially on wrists, arms, thighs, or chest. You might also observe someone suddenly wearing clothes that cover more of their body, like long sleeves, even when the weather is warm.

Behaviorally, they may pull away, preferring isolation over the company of friends or family. If you come across razors, knives, or other sharp objects in their belongings without a clear purpose, that's another sign. And sometimes, unexplained burns might be present on their skin, possibly from cigarettes or matches.

How to Support a Loved One Who Self-Harms

Providing Emotional Support

One way to practice self-harm prevention is by listening without judging. Your presence and willingness to hear them out can provide comfort. It's crucial to avoid any criticism during these sensitive times.

Pointing fingers or placing blame can further alienate them. Instead, express your genuine care and concern. Let them know that you're there for them and that their well-being matters to you.

Encouraging Professional Help

Knowing how much professional help can change things is so important. You may suggest getting psychological treatment if you see a friend or family member struggling.

Taking the first step can be scary, so offer to accompany them on their first visit. Sharing info about helplines or local groups can also be a big help. Remember, a little support can make a big difference.

Understanding the Importance of Self-Care

As you support your loved one, remember your well-being as well. It's completely okay to take breaks when things become overwhelming. Consider joining a support group or engaging with a therapist to discuss your feelings and challenges. By ensuring you're emotionally stable and supported, you can better help your loved one through their journey.

Dealing with self-harm isn't easy. But that's why psychiatry is here. It plays a big part in helping people find their way back to feeling better. If you or someone you know is struggling, don't be shy to ask for help. There's strength in reaching out.

Ready to Start? If this speaks to you, take action. Help is just a call or a chat away. Reach out to us at Roots Mental Wellness and let the journey to feeling better begin. 

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Henna Geronimo
Contributing Writer