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Helping a friend or family member stop self harming

Ways to help and support someone close to you who is self harming


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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Stopping self harm is not easy. It takes time and a lot of work. So, if you know someone who is in the process of stopping, you may be wondering how you can help. What can you do to make things a bit easier for them? Is there any way you can help them through the process?

Ways you can help a friend who is self harming

There are a few things you can do to support your friend or family member:

Do some research and try to understand

Read more about self harm, what it is, and why people do it. Self harm is about emotional pain and dealing with difficult emotions. You can find more information about self harm here.

​Encourage them to get professional help

Whether it is in the form of a GP visit, a support group or a counsellor, support your friend in finding the help they need. Be there for them if they find the process tough. You can learn what to do if you have to accompany your friend to a support service here. Remember there are free support services like Pieta House who have centres all around the country. They support people of all ages who may self harm or be feeling suicidal.

Get help if they say they feel suicidal

It is important to note that someone who self harms does not necessarily mean they are suicidal. However, if you do suspect that they have become suicidal, it is important to tell someone like a family member. It's a good idea to discuss this with the person and to agree on contacting someone they feel can help. For more on what to do if your friend is feeling suicidal, click here.

Try not to panic or judge them

Maybe you’ve never dealt with someone who self harms before, but your freaking out won’t help anything. Instead, it may just make the person feel worse and a whole less likely to confide in you.

You may not understand self harming and feel that you can’t relate to it at all. Listen to what they need to share with you.

Avoid pushing for details

There’s no need to ask how they self harm, and it’s also not a good idea to ask to look at their cuts or scars. This may make them feel embarrassed or ashamed. It may also make them less likely to confide in you again.

Try not to pressure your friend 

Self harm is not easy to stop and if your friend or family member could stop self harming easily, they probably would. Telling someone who self harms to stop immediately is like telling an alcoholic to "just stop drinking". It takes a lot of effort and work for someone to stop and they need to be supported in this process.

Look after yourself and acknowledge your own feelings

Acknowledge how you feel – it's normal to be shocked, upset, and afraid. You can let the person know that you’re upset to know that they have been finding things difficult, but that you can handle it and want to support them.

If you’re going to support someone who self harms, it's important that you have some way of dealing with the feelings it brings up for you. You may want to speak to someone from your local Jigsaw centre.

Know your limits, and mind yourself. Only offer as much support as you feel you can. Remember that you’re not the only source of support to this person, and if they are to stop self harming they will benefit from the help of a few people.

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Published January 2nd, 2013
Last updated July 31st, 2018
Tags self harm mental health
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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