Friends and family – Self Harm



Friends and family – Self Harm

Finding that a person you care for is harming themselves can bring about a large range of thoughts and feelings: fear, distress, confusion, worry, anger, anxiety and self blame. Your first reactions may be to remove the things that they are using to harm themselves, be forceful in seeking help (i.e. urgently seeing a GP), apply pressure on them to talk, or be confrontational. Self harm is primarily a coping strategy. Until the reasons behind the self harm have been explored taking away their ability to cope can be very detrimental. The table below gives you more detailed do’s and don’ts. 

A common fear is that a loved one is feeling suicidal. Whilst some individuals that self harm may have suicidal feelings, these are likely to originate from the issues behind the self harm rather than the self harm itself. Self harm, as a coping mechanism, is very often a way of avoiding suicide by releasing thoughts, feelings and emotions. The reasons behind self harm will need to be addressed when the individual is ready and with the right care and support. Appropriate professional help may be needed. Whilst these reasons are being worked through the greatest support you can offer is a listening ear. 

Distractions can be a powerful way of diverting feelings of self harm or finding other ways to express thoughts and feelings such as poetry, art, sport etc. Alternatives to self harm such as ice cubes on the skin, flicking elastic bands or drawing on the skin with a red pen can also help. 

Things to do:

  • Open up methods of communication
  • Give them the option to come to talk to you IF they want to
  • Ask them if they want to talk about what, if anything led to the individual episode of self harm
  • Ask them what, if anything they would like you to do to help
  • IF they are willing to talk about it – recommend and encourage them to seek professional help, coping strategies, support groups, support forums etc.
  • Let them remain in control as much as possible (many people who self harm feel they have a lack of control over their lives and feelings etc.).
  • Learn as much as you can about self harm
  • Try and be understanding
  • Show them that you care and can see the person beyond the self harm
  • Be positive. Try and focus on their strengths
  • If they tell you they have just self harmed, stay calm and ask if they want to talk about it or need any medical help (despite how you may feel, try not to show it)
  • Get help for dealing with and understanding your own feelings and emotions
  • Only help as much as you feel able too. You need to look after your own health too. You need to maintain some self preservation, supporting someone else can be emotionally draining
  • Offer ideas for distractions – talk about things not related to self harm, watch a film together, go for a walk together etc but respect requests for time on their own


Things not to do:                       

  • Don’t force them to talk about it
  • Don’t make them feel that this is something that should be kept secret and is wrong to talk about or that they have to talk about it
  • Don’t assume every episode of self harm is for the same reason
  • Don’t assume what they need and want or take any action without discussing it and being sure that they are comfortable with it
  • Don’t force them into going to get help and take control away from them (they may not be ready; forcing this may cause them to withdraw from you)
  • Don’t try to make them stop self harming (e.g. by removing self harm tools) or give them ultimatums or do things that they aren’t comfortable with. NEVER ask them to promise they won’t harm themselves. This will only add more pressure
  • Never jump to conclusions
  • Don’t tell them what they are doing is wrong or be judgemental
  • Don’t change your perspective of them as a person (They are an individual, not a self-harmer!)
  • Don’t be negative, their self harm does not change everything about them
  • Don’t get angry with them, shout at them, or show shock after individual episodes of self harm (you may feel this way but expressing it may cause more harm and make the individual feel guilty)
  • Don’t blame yourself or take it personally
  • Don’t blame them for making you worry or talk about how much this is impacting on you, this may make them feel even more guilty and lead to further self harm
  • Don’t assume that they always need to talk about the self harm if they are low or not allow them any time and space alone


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The Have I Got A Problem website is a free online resource to help people better understand any issues or concerns they may have about mental health or addiction. The website includes resources specifically focused to; general Mental Health, Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurities, Self-harm Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anger Management, Eating Disorders, Coping, general Addiction, Alcohol, Smoking, Gambling, Drugs, Cocaine, Heroin, Marijuana (Cannabis) Ecstasy, PCP, Mephedrone, Ketamine & Crystal Meth.

The site was created to give the public information to help them understand mental health and addiction issues and to assist people in making better informed decisions about their life and personal choices. was created and is run by 'Advising Communities’, which is a UK registered charity (Charity No. 1061055)


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