Self-harm

Explains self-harm, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

Your stories

My body comes with a trigger warning

Seaneen blogs about living with the scars of self-harm.

Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan
Posted on 23/09/2015

What can friends and family do to help?

This section is for friends and family who want to support someone they know who self-harms.

Be supportive

There are lots of things that you can do to make a difference to someone you know who self-harms. Your attitude and how you relate to them is one of the key things that can help them feel supported.

I do try to talk to her. I just don't want to be a bother. I know she's there for me and I know she does want to help, and she does, when I let her in.

Things that you can do to help include:

  • Let your friend or family member know that you are there, if and when they are ready to talk. It is common for people to worry that they will be judged for their self-harm or that they will be a burden on others, so it’s important to let them know you are there for them if they want.
  • Show concern for their injuries, but at the same time, relate to them as a whole person rather than just someone who self-harms.
  • Offer them a chance to talk about how they are feeling. Try to understand and empathise with what they are saying even when it is hard to hear.
  • Try to understand that they may be scared of stopping self-harm if they use it as a way of coping. If they are finding it hard to stop, try to help them find other ways of coping and to seek help if they need it (see ‘How can I help myself?’ and ‘What treatment and support is available’).
  • Let them be in control of decisions about support and any plans to reduce or stop their self-harm.
  • Emphasise other parts of their life where they are doing well, and the good qualities that they have.

Have an honest conversation about staying safe

It is common to feel scared about the possibility of someone you care about seriously hurting themselves or even committing suicide. While it is understandable to have these fears, it is useful to remember that self-harm doesn’t necessarily mean that someone wants to end their life.

For me it was never about wanting to kill myself. If anything this temporary relief from desperation actually helped me move on from such thoughts.

There are, however, a small number of people who do go on to take their own lives, either intentionally or accidently. It’s therefore important to have an honest conversation with your friend or family member about staying safe – for example, being aware when things are getting too much and knowing when to seek help. (See suicidal feelings for more information.)

Take care of yourself

Finding out that someone you love and care about is self-harming can be a very shocking and upsetting experience. And supporting someone who is self-harming can be a long process with many ups and downs. It’s important to take care of yourself – this will help you to be able to stay involved for longer and avoid becoming unwell yourself. (See How to cope as a carer for more information.)

You might find these suggestions could help:

  • Try to have clear boundaries about how much and what sort of support you can offer.
  • Find out what other support is available so you are not the only source of support (see ‘What treatment and support is available?’).
  • Get support for your own feelings. Lots of organisations offer information and support to people who are concerned about someone else’s self-harm, or you may find it helpful to try a talking treatment if you are finding things difficult (see ‘Useful contacts’).

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