Suicide and self-harm

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Read about suicide and self-harm, including why these thoughts may occur, the signs and symptoms and how to find help.

Suicide and self-harm

Thoughts of suicide and self-harm behaviours often result from overwhelming emotional pain. If someone has been going through a very difficult time, self-harm, or even suicide, can sometimes seem like the only way out.

Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose. Teens who self-harm may be trying to relieve emotional pain or suffering, or create a physical wound to represent their emotional pain. People who self-harm may sometimes have thoughts of suicide, but not always.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there are treatments available that can help you figure out why you feel so sad and learn new methods to manage and overcome your pain. Talking openly and honestly with someone you trust can help you feel less alone, lighten your burden and remind you that people care about you and want to help.

If you need help immediately, contact your health-care provider, or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line from Kids Help Phone by texting CONNECT to 686868.

Common signs and symptoms of suicidal thoughts

While each person is different, there are some general signs and symptoms of distress. Typically, someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts would experience both behavioural (actions) and emotional (feelings) signs and symptoms of distress.

Behavioural signs include:

  • thinking about or planning self-harm or suicide
  • talking about suicide or not wanting to be in the world anymore
  • experiencing big changes in sleep habits and appetite
  • isolating yourself from friends, family and activities
  • engaging in self-harm
  • starting or changing substance use

Emotional signs include:

  • feeling worthless, hopeless or trapped
  • feeling irritable
  • feeling angry or even experiencing rage

What causes suicidal thoughts and behaviours?

There is no single cause for suicidal thoughts and self-harm behaviours. These thoughts may go away after some time, but they may also come up quickly in response to an event.

Stressful life events play a big role in the onset of suicidal thoughts. For instance, events such as a difficult break-up, a fight with family or friends, bullying, failing a test or losing a loved one may cause deep feelings of distress and despair and make someone believe that suicide is the only way to escape.

Other possible causes include mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. If these are not recognized or treated properly, someone may feel overwhelming sadness and that there is no way out.

How are suicidal thoughts and self-harm treated?

The first step is talking to someone you trust. This might be a parent, a counsellor, another family member, a counsellor or another adult in your life at home or at school.

Therapy can also help you sort out what stressful events are happening in your life and causing you to feel sad and hopeless. A therapist can work with you to come up with strategies and skills to handle your feelings and deal with the situations that are causing stress.

What can I do to relieve any suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviour?

There are a number of things you can do to support yourself when you are feeling distressed.

Talk to someone

It can be really difficult to share your deepest thoughts and feelings, but talking with a parent, a teacher or another trusted adult can help.

Sometimes you might find it easier to share your feelings with a stranger than with someone who knows you well. If you feel distressed and need someone to listen, a crisis help line might be helpful. In Canada, you can call Kids Help Phone on 1-800-668-6868 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line from Kids Help Phone by texting CONNECT to 686868, or chat with someone through the online Live Chat or the Always There app. For more information visit

Distract yourself

If you’re feeling especially stressed, do an activity you enjoy, whether it’s watching a movie, listening to music, drawing, reading or writing. Or you could do some vigorous physical activity such as a brisk walk or a run for 10 or 20 minutes. It may also help to eat your favourite food or snack.

Use relaxation

Use deep breathing or muscle relaxation to help calm yourself. There are many apps available for download, or you can try some of the guided meditations on this site. Another option is to take a warm shower and use body wash or other skin products that smell good and might help you to relax.

When should I see a doctor?

It is very important to see your health-care provider if you:

  • are already self-harming
  • have suicidal thoughts and cannot see a way out

Your health-care provider can suggest helpful ways to cope or may refer you to a mental health professional for further help. If they are concerned for your immediate safety, they may send you to your nearest emergency department.

Last updated: September 12th 2019