Five things you can do if someone tells you they are self-harming

Five things you can do if someone tells you they are self-harming

Five ways you could respond and get support if a friend tells you they are self-harming.

If a friend tells you that they are self-harming, it can be difficult to know what to do next. Here are five tips for how you can respond, to ensure you and your friend can get the support you need.

1. Don’t panic

Learning that someone you care about is self-harming can be difficult to bear, and can make you feel upset, confused or even angry. Don’t panic if you’re not sure how to react – often simply being there is enough.   

Trust yourself, although at the time you think haven’t got a clue what’s going on, you probably have.

2. Offer to listen

Allow the other person to speak without interruption or judgement. For them self-harm may feel like the only way to express very strong and deep-rooted emotions. If someone feels able to open up to you this can be a huge breakthrough, so try not to jump to conclusions or make any fast decisions.

My dad said very little. He just listened. It was exactly what I needed.

3. Help them to find support

Take the initiative and find out about mental health and other support services in the area. It may also help if you support your friend to make an appointment and offer to accompany them.

Where you can find support: Provides a safe place to talk, share stories and ask for advice. : Run by the Bristol Crisis Service for Women, they support girls in distress and have a text and email service too. Text: 0780 047 2908 Mon-Fri 7am-9pm A free helpline that provides counseling for children with any problem. Helpline: 0800 1111 Text: 0800 400 222. Mon-Fri: 9:30am-9:30pm, Weekends: 11am-8pm Confidential support for anyone in crisis. Helpline: 08457 90 90 90 (UK) Text: 08457 90 91 92 Email:

4. Be there for them for the long haul

Don’t expect a quick fix – some people self-harm for years as a way of dealing with difficult emotions or situations. Most people don’t want to be defined by their self-harm, so keep on being a friend to them as normal too.   

She often said the wrong things and she didn’t understand at first, but she was there and she cared. That was the most important thing.

5. Look after yourself

It’s hard to support someone if you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of your depth. Setting boundaries to what you can offer and getting support for yourself are important. Be honest about how you’re feeling and don’t take on more than you can cope with.

If you’re feeling upset or struggling to cope yourself, talk to someone you trust – you’re doing a great thing by supporting your friend but if you’re worried or feeling down, make sure you speak to someone.

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