How to support someone who self-harms

Whether you know for sure, or just suspect that a friend or family member is hurting themselves, it can be very difficult to know how to approach the subject. You may experience a number of feelings including anger and shock.

Supporting someone who self-harms

Keep in mind that self-harm usually happens because someone is finding it hard to cope with difficult emotions. Try not to react in anger or panic as this can affect the amount the person feels they can open up to you.

What can you do?

There are several ways you can help. First of all, your attitude and the way you talk to them can make a huge impact.

Avoid being judgemental

Don’t assume you know why the person is self-harming. Everyone is different and has different reasons for their actions. Keep in mind that it is a serious problem and not something that can be brushed off as ‘attention seeking’.

Educate yourself

Try to learn more about self-harming, including why people do it and what treatment options can help. We go into this in more depth on our self-harm page. Understanding (or at least trying to understand) the behaviour and the way someone who self-harms feels, can be very helpful when talking to them.

Allow them to be in control of how they seek help

Point them to the different support options, but avoid dictating to them. For example, you could find an online support forum and show them the link, or suggest they speak to a professional. If you try to force them to seek help, it could cause them to retreat into themselves. Many people who self-harm keep it secret, so try to encourage them to be open by staying calm and communicative.

Look after yourself

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Of course, you will feel worried, but taking care of your own mental and physical health will help you stay involved for longer and truly be there for the other person. If you think you would benefit from talking to a counsellor yourself, don’t hesitate to do so. You can use our search tool to find a counsellor in your area.

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Written by Katherine Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Counselling Directory and Happiful magazine.

Written by Katherine Nicholls

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