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 to listen to them if and when they are ready to talk. It is common for people who self-harm to feel isolated, to worry that they will be judged for their self- harm, or to worry that they will be a burden on others, so it is important for you to let them know you are there for them
  • 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, and try to understand and empathise with what they are saying even when it is hard to hear
  • Understand that they may be scared of stopping their 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 (see ‘Helping yourself’) and to seek help if they need it (see ‘Treatment and support’)
  • Let them be in control of the decisions they make about their treatment and 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 does not 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 accidentally. Therefore, it is important to have an honest conversation with your friend or family member about staying safe.

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 is important to take care of yourself – this will help you to be able to stay involved for longer and avoid becoming unwell yourself.

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 ‘Treatment and support’)
  • 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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