If someone opens up to you and tells you they self harm, it can be difficult to know how to respond. It is easy to feel like you immediately want to offer a solution to the situation, but what is most important is to listen to what the person is saying and to let them know that you are there for them.
It is important to note that if the person is badly injured or has told you they are suicidal then you will need to get them immediate medical help. Avoid contacting anyone for help without first telling the person involved that you are going to.
What should I do if someone tells me they self harm?
Avoid getting angry, blaming or shaming the person
If someone opens up to you about self harming you may feel upset or angry that someone you care about is going through a difficult time. Although it is normal to feel upset, trying to stay calm and having an open conversation is the best way to support the person who has opened up to you. You may be confused as to why the person would self harm, but try to put your own thoughts or opinions on the matter aside. Never blame or shame the person for self harming or pressure them to stop and never say or imply that what they are doing is for attention.
It is important to remember that self harm is not a choice or someone’s fault, but a complex situation in which the person who is self harming needs support. Telling someone to stop self harming may cause more distress to that person than self harming less would, as people often self harm as a way to deal with complex emotions. The best thing you can do for a person who opens up to you about self harm is to listen and offer to help them find support.
Listen to what they are telling you
If someone opens up to you about self harming, listen to what they have to say. It is a big step for someone to share what they are going through and they have chosen to share this information with you for a reason. Respect the trust that they have in you by opening up to them and letting them know that you are there to support them.
Do not focus on the physical self harm, but instead the reasons behind why they self harm/what they are feeling
It can be easy to focus on the symptoms of self harm, but to get to the root of the problem it is important instead to focus on why they are doing it and how they are feeling. Feelings of depression and anxiety can cause some people to self harm as a form of release from overwhelming thoughts and emotions. Do not ask the person to see their scars or injuries. Instead, talk to them about what is causing them to self harm and what can be done to better the situation. The aim of your conversation should not necessarily be to stop the person from self harming, but to support the person and help them better cope during this difficult time.
Let them know that you are there to support them
Let the person know that you support them and that they are not alone. They are not reaching out to you so that you can fix them, but are often looking for someone to listen and offer understanding. Let the person know that you’re upset to know that they have been finding things difficult, and want to support them.
Discuss together what you think the next step should be
You may think you know what the next step is, but it is important not to come up with solutions without asking the person what they would like to do. Ask them if they would like immediate help or support and if so, suggest getting in contact with a charity such as Pieta House, who offer support for people who self harm. If they do not want to take any immediate action, ask what they would like to happen next and how you can be of help to them. You cannot force a person to get help, but you can still encourage and support them to do so.
Guide them to supports that are available
We offer many articles for both people who self harm, and for those who support others who self harm. We also offer a range of information on mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety.
Some immediate supports that could help your friend:
- Self harm distraction techniques
- What happens when you attend A&E for self harm
- Going to see your GP for a mental health difficulty
- How to deal with urges to self harm
Some supports for you:
There are several different ways to support someone who self harms. You may need to try a few different methods and until you find the one that works best for you. For information on supporting someone who self harms visit our Mental Health section.