Supporting a friend who self-harms

Posted on 27 May 2019,   0 Comments
We recently asked our Instagram community how they’d want their friends to help support them when they’re struggling with self-harm. We’ve compiled a couple of the top ones that kept coming up & shared some thoughts on them below. So if you’ve got a friend who you’re worried about and you’re not sure how to help, this one’s for you. (We’ve also got another straight up advice piece about supporting someone who self-harms here!)
The biggest, and perhaps most important, point to make straight away is that everyone is different. So if you’re able to talk about these things with your friends and come up with the best way to help them personally, you’ll both feel better than trying to force them into something that’s not right for them. 


“Don’t think as I’m self-harming I want to end my life; self-harm and suicidal thoughts are different”

One of the things we’ll always bang on about at HATW is the idea that self-harm is a coping mechanism. And although it’s a harmful one, it’s a way of trying to cope with life, not trying to end it. It’s important to note that self-harm does increase the risk of suicide, but they’re separate things. So if you’re worried about someone, try to keep in mind that they’re trying to find a way to keep on going. 


Maybe you could: Help them find other, more positive ways of dealing with life when it gets a bit much. Speaking of..


“Give me tasks to do that distract from my thoughts! Colouring, going for walks etc”

There’s this idea of everything being transitory – nothing lasts forever. And negative feelings are very much included in that. Often times, it can be a big help just to be distracted from rubbish stuff that’s happening in your life, at least until the urge to self-harm subsides. Self-harm can sometimes be a frantic “heat of the moment” knee jerk reaction to the situation a person is in. If you’re in a pattern of self-harming behaviour, and you can distract yourself for just 5 minutes, sometimes that can make all the difference. 


Maybe you could: If you’re supporting someone, find a few different ideas of distractions – a short one, like a phonecall, a slightly longer one like watching a movie together, and an even longer one like a trip to town or a walk around your area. 
There’s a bunch of ideas of things that have helped other people out before on our ‘Things to Try’ page!


“By listening”

Oh my days, such a simple one, but so so important. If you’ve got a friend who’s self-harming, that’s a reaction to something else going on in their life. There’s something that’s upsetting them and getting them down so much that they’re hurting themselves. Take the time to listen to them and what’s going on in their life, rather than focussing on the actual act of self-harm. 
But equally, don’t push them; it’s about having a conversation and listening to what they have to say, not an interrogation. Let them talk as much or as little as they want. 


Maybe you could: Make a habit of getting together for a chat over a cup of tea/coffee/squash (dude, how good is squash?) once a week, where you can both just talk about life and what’s going on. No pressure, just a chat, and let them talk about whatever they want.


“Spending time with you to take your mind off it and making you feel valued”

Now, some people find it more helpful to have some space, rather than spending time with people constantly, but I think the most important thing here is “making you feel valued”. See, by definition, if you’re self-harming, you’re not placing much value on yourself, and it can be hard to get out of that mindset. So on top of being around, talking and helping distract a friend, helping them feel valued is super important.


Maybe you could: Help celebrate the things that make them them. What traits do they have that are amazing? What is it about them you love? Remember that self-harm is something they do, not something that defines them. They’re your friend for a reason, and they’re important enough to you for you to be reading this blog post, so help them remember that. 


“Don’t make it all about you”

It’s great to be able to empathise with someone’s situation, and relate to their problems. Knowing you’re not alone is super helpful! BUT! Be careful not to overtake the conversation by spinning it round to talk about what you’ve got going on. If a friend’s talking to you about their situation, now’s the time to focus on them.


Maybe you could: Find someone else that you can talk to when you need to. Learn how to empathise and understand without needing to bring your own stuff to the table. And honestly? if you’re feeling like you’ve got too much going on yourself and talking about stuff is going to be triggering, don’t be afraid to say that you’re not able to have this conversation right now but – and this bits super important – help them find someone else who they can talk to.


Have you got any other things you’d want your friends to know? Drop us a line and we can help share information & build support up. Look out for each other out there.

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