Help, my friend is self-harming

It’s always awkward to approach a friend to ask about private sensitive things such as self-harm. We are often afraid of embarrassing our friend or ourselves, just in case it’s really nothing. But not doing anything can sometimes be even more costly.

So how can you tell if it’s really self harm?

How to recognize

Be aware of unexplainable physical signs and unusual behavior.

Physical signs

  • Wear clothes to cover up even in hot weather
  • Unexplained Cuts, bruises, burns on body
  • Signs of hair being pulled out


  • Withdraw from social activity
  • Lacks interest in things that they used to like
  • Distant and distracted.
  • Putting themselves down all the time. May talk about ending life.


How to prepare yourself
  1. Breath, stay calm and don’t panic. You need to make sure you are ok before you can help someone else.
  1. Set aside time and find a quiet place to raise your concerns. Make sure you are not in a hurry or expecting a call.
  1. Speak normally and calmly – Your tone of voice could cause this person to open up or clam up. Just show the same concern as you would if it’s any other type of sickness or injury.
  1. Find out more about self-harm . Know that it is a way of coping with very painful emotions and difficult life situations. If your friend is not self-harming, raising the concern will not cause your friend to start self-harming.


How may your friend react?

Often we may avoid raising such concerns because we fear how our friend will react. Maybe you could try saying the following if you get these reactions:



How to start talking about the concern.

When you’ve found an appropriate time and quiet place, you can try saying this:


Don’t do this:

Be very mindful not to do this when you are speaking with your friend about the injuries.

  1. Don’t avoid looking at their injuries and don’t keep staring at it. Take a look at it briefly but look at your friends face as you talk.
  1. Don’t force them to stop what they are doing. Although self-harm is not the right way to cope, it may be the only way your friend knows how to cope with the emotional pain at this point.
  1. Don’t threaten to take away whatever it is that they use for self-harm. Self-harming is a way in which they are trying to control a situation in their live that is uncontrollable and causing them a lot of distress.
  1. Don’t be judgmental and say they are attention seeking. Don’t say that they are weak or that it’s a shameful thing to do.
  1. Don’t try to find simple solutions or make light of the problem.
  1. Don’t promise to keep it a secret. You want to respect this person’s dignity but it’s also important to ensure that they stay alive.


When is it an emergency

If your friend mentions or hints that life is not worth living or that it’s better to die than to live with their pain, or plans to give away their most treasured possessions, your friend may have suicidal ideas. Please keep calm and get help. Here is more information on how to prevent suicide. Please keep these helplines handy.


Long term support:

Follow -up regularly

Try to continue the friendship as usual and do all the activities as you normally do. When there are private moments, ask your friend about the problem. Sometimes your friend may feel silly that you are asking or may feel that they are a bother to you.  Assure them that you appreciate that they are willing to share such intimate problems with you.

Be patient with this person and with yourself.

Nevermind if it’s the same story that they are telling, don’t feel helpless that there is no progress. Sometimes by telling the same story over and over again, that person may process the problem and find a solution. Deep anguish and emotional pain will take time to heal.

Remind them of coping strategies

Ask your friend if they have tried better ways to cope with the problem rather than self-harm. Take note of it and gently remind them of it.  Or if they are getting professional help, ask them what advice has been prescribed by the therapist for this person. Read more about self-harm and better coping mechanism here.


Take care of yourself.

Providing support for a hurting person can takes a lot out of you. So it’s important that you learn to care for your own mental well-being.

Remember to:

Set limits to expectations

  • You can’t solve all of this person’s problems so don’t beat yourself up if progress is slow.
  • You have other responsibilities too, so do share gently with this person about the other things that you have to do and why you can’t be there for your friend some of the times.

Set time to do things that makes you happy because listening to another person’s problems can weigh you down.

Get advice from a trusted, knowledgeable source to know what is the right thing to do to help this person. You do not need to disclose every detail or share the name or school or how you know this person, just provide facts and ask for advice. This can also act as emotional support for yourself.

Share this with your friends so that they can be ready to help others who struggle with self-harm.

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