Self-Harm and A Triggering Workplace Environment

June 1, 2015 Kalie Gipson

The workplace can be a triggering environment for self-harmers. From hiding self-harm scars to office talk, we must manage our self-harm triggers at work.

The workplace can be a stressful and triggering environment for self-harmers. First, we have to make the decision of hiding our scars or not. If we don't, we face questions, scrutiny, and gossip from our coworkers and bosses. Secondly, we may, and probably will, be triggered to self-harm at some point. We can't control what others say and do, or what is asked of us while we're working. Thus, it is essential for us to find ways to minimize stress and stay on the course of recovery from self-harm in a triggering environment like the workplace.

Hiding Self-Harm Scars in a Triggering Workplace Environment

Of course, it is not always easy to hide your self-harm scars when you are at work. You have to abide by your company's dress code, and long sleeves or pants aren't always an option. If your scars are clearly visible, they can attract attention and it may not necessarily be positive. It would be great if people didn't ask questions or, at the very least, showed compassion and understanding when told the truth. However, this isn't always the case.

I was fortunate enough to have compassionate coworkers and supervisors at my previous job, but with the stigma surrounding self-harm and mental illness I doubt that this is the rule instead of the exception. I, myself, am guilty of asking questions at work when there appeared to be a self-harm scar on a coworker.

The Work Environment Can Be Triggering for Self-Harm

Sometimes what people say or the environment we work in can be triggering for self-harm. Triggers can come in many different forms, from overhearing a conversation, to coworkers asking questions about your scars (or talking negatively about them), to the items we work with on a daily basis. In a typical office setting, there are scissors and staplers, both capable of inflicting pain.

For other jobs, you may be around box cutters or other types of sharp objects. The simple stress of our job may find us triggered enough to feel like using these objects on ourselves, or may send us home to the temptation of self-harming. I vividly remember working in retail, and having to use an X-Acto knife for a custom printing project. To be completely honest, I could not do it. An X-Acto knife had been my weapon of choice for years, and just having one in my hand made me sweat.

The workplace can be a triggering environment for self-harmers. From hiding self-harm scars to office talk, we must manage our self-harm triggers at work.

So what did I do? I decided to put my mental health before my job (which I understand is not always an easy or available option). I told my manager on duty that I couldn’t do the project and I asked to be assigned to a different project or area of the store, and he obliged me. If you have a manager who is not this easy to work with, I would use your break time to practice some calming techniques, like deep breathing, to ground yourself.

If you cannot get away from the situation, prepare your activities for after work. If you hear your coworkers talking negatively about your scars or about self-harm and mental health in general, see what activities you can do after work to get your mind off of it. Look up lists of alternatives to self-harm. Grab dinner with a good friend. Do anything to keep you from hurting yourself. The trigger of the moment will have subsided after a while, and you will have survived another scare.

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APA Reference
Gipson, K. (2015, June 1). Self-Harm and A Triggering Workplace Environment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Kalie Gipson

November, 25 2023 at 4:47 pm

In my experience: with larger companies: they do not care about self-harm or suicide. If it dont happen there, they dont acknowledge it. When you try to share self-harm tendancies, they will ignore it at best, or blacklist you at worst. We really should feel safe discussing fatal disorders like this at a place we spend 1/3 of our lives. But thanks to spree shooters and human apathy, if you share depression, suicidal feelings or self-harm feelings: you are branded a threat. Remember: HR works for the company, not for you.

Fathiya Al Busaidi
March, 1 2020 at 10:47 pm

Can we change it to the better which will put others in their work ability

Theresa Fuller
May, 3 2018 at 11:33 pm

Not true. My head manager knows everything about my mental health. The other managers know too. They are more understanding with me, and do what they can to help me. I am not in fear of losing my job. I have been there for 4 years. I was even taken to the hospital by another worker from work. I find it’s best to let them know what’s going on. They can help you avoid some triggers and are more willing to come help you when you ask for it. If you are comfortable with your manager, tell them. If they are doing things that trigger you or make you feel overwhelmed or upset and then they are confided my your reaction and misunderstand you, tell them. Explain to them why you do something. They will probably listen, show respect, and her off your back.

November, 14 2017 at 6:00 am

Wear bangles (in the summer) or other type of concealing jewellery or clothing (in the winter). NEVER disclose mental illness to an employer if you want to keep your job. I don't care what the human right laws say, they will find a legal way (ie downsizing) to get rid of you if you do and they what type of reference to you honestly think you're gonna get. Can you really afford to sue (over wrongfull dismisl?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 28 2018 at 4:45 pm

Ok, I have told two employers since my diagnosis about my self harm/mental illness and one of them put me off telling anyone else for life. Dismissed me, called me a lier and said that I was trying to make excuses. They still gave me a good reference, though, despite all this and I left on my own terms (despite them demoting and doubting me) - it was still my decision to leave.
The one I'm with now, especially since my self harm relapse a month ago, has been incredibly sympathetic and understanding about my illness. I don't go into detail but my scars are unfortunately very obvious. I work behind a bar (it gets very hot very fast so I do have to wear short sleeves sometimes) and as a waitress - there are corkscrews with knives on them, sharp steak knifes, general knives in the kitchen - hot pans, candles, the list goes on. It terrifies me somedays just to face/pick up these objects. On extremely bad days, my employer allows me to do the jobs which he and I deem safe, therefore I don't have to put myself in anymore danger than i feel I already am. I encourage people to tell their employers if they feel comfortable doing so because most employers are accomodating to most, if not all, disabilities. Having said that, we've recently changed managers and I feel I can tell the new one more than I can the old without being judged.
Their is good and bad sides to telling an employer, but if you are proved mentally ill and dismissed from your employer on these grounds - in court you stand a pretty decent chance of winning against them. So, yes, you can afford to sue them.

May, 22 2017 at 10:26 pm

I have self harm scars on my wrist and I'm scared that my manager at work will see them and ask a lot of questions. I don't know what to do. I look up to her and she says she's always there for me. But, I don't think I want her to know. I don't know what to do.

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