How To Help Someone Who Is Self-Harming

Posted on 31 August 2015

If someone confides in you that they’ve been struggling with self-harm, it’s important to know how to handle it. These are some ideas that we’ve gathered from talking to people, that might help you.

All of the advice below has come from talking with people who self-harm, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different, and this won’t apply to everyone. But it’s a good starting point! Often times, just actually being there for someone makes the world of difference.

  • Don’t take it personally – these are their issues. It’s good they trust you enough to share them with you.
  • Try to understand – what they’re going through, and how important it is to them. Even opening up about their experiences can be a huge deal to them.
  • Take care of yourself – To support someone as they’re beating their struggle with self-harm can be pretty intense emotionally, so make sure you seek support if you need it. Check out our list of organisations who are there to talk.
  • Be realistic – You can’t solve all of their problems by yourself. But do what you can, even if that’s just being there to listen.
  • Be patient – Stopping self-harm will only happen in their own time. Don’t try and force them to stop, as this just encourages negative emotion. Let them know you’re there for them, as and when they’re ready to talk.
  • Stay calm – It’s understandable to want to be angry & upset that someone close to you hurts themselves. But being visibly angry can make the situation worse, and leave them feeling like they can’t talk to you.
  • Let them lead – they’re going to make progress at their own pace, and trying to make them get better right away doesn’t help. Let them set their own goals, or make their own decisions about the support that they want.
  • Let them know that you care, and want to help. Ask them how you can help.
  • Don’t forget, everyone makes mistakes. Don’t be afraid of ‘doing it wrong”; doing something to help is better than doing nothing.
  • Remember everyone is different and has their own way of dealing with things. Some people will respond better to a distraction, while others may get on better by talking through their problems.
  • Think about the person, not the injuries – self-harm is just some people’s way of coping, it doesn’t define them as a person. Don’t describe them as a “self-harmer” – they’re still the person that you know. Try to focus on their wellbeing rather than the extent of their injuries.