*This post is about supporting someone who’s self-harmed. There will be no descriptions of self-harm and should be fairly trigger free. However, if you are sensitive around talking about the topic I suggest maybe not reading it.*
As it has been over 3 years since I self-harmed I wanted to write a post on tips to support a young person who is self-harming, this could be your child, student, or someone you care for, it might even be your friend. I am writing this from personal experience as someone who self-harmed for 6 years and as someone who has supported young people who have self-harmed. The things that helped me may or may not help others, but I just want share what worked and didn’t work for me. I am not a mental health professional.
Tips if a Young Person discloses they’ve been self-harming.
1.Don’t Panic, Do Listen. If a young person tells you they’ve been self-harming, don’t act shocked or surprised. Even though you may feel these things, don’t let it show in this instance. Listen to what they want to say.
If you are not the parent/carer and instead are a teacher, nurse, etc. and have responsibility to report it then let the young person know ASAP that this is what you have to do and follow your organisations protocol for this. Although this is something you should inform them of, try not to interrupt them.
This could be the first time they’ve confided in someone about how they are feeling so really do listen.
2.Get Help If someone has come to you after they have just self-harmed and you feel they may need immediate medical help then try and get them that straight away.
On the other hand, if they are not at immediate risk, you may still feel like you can’t deal with this by yourself at the time, and that’s fine. Go and get help from someone else to support you in dealing with this issue. It is just as important to protect your own mental health when supporting someone else.
3.Be There (Again) If you can. Something I always appreciated from the teachers who supported me was the fact that I knew that they were always there for me. Having someone consistent who I knew was “up-to-date” in my situation was always really helpful. But always put yourself first. I had a team of teachers supporting me at the time so the weight of issue was shared between all of them.
4.Signpost Chances are, if you’re reading this you aren’t a mental health professional. So signposting is key, especially because you’re not always going to be there for them. This helps protect you but also helps protect them. Although I never used these suggestions that often, it was helpful if I was ever in crisis.
There is a list of signposting at the end of this post.
Tips if you find out a Young Person has been Self-Harming
1.Ask them how they are Try not to go straight in with “I see you’ve been self-harming” or “why are you doing that?”. Start off with just asking them how they are. Ask them how they’ve been and what they’ve been up to. Try to ask open questions, that way they can’t close off the conversation with a “yes” or a “no” answer. But at the same time try not to push them as this could deter them from ever wanting to open up.
If they do open up to you then follow the tips above.
2. Offer support Even if they don’t open up to you, be there for them. Try and offer support and be open that you are there for them. That way they might be more inclined to speak to you when they are ready.
Have an open door policy if you can. This way they can just come to you if they need you.
3. Keep an Eye Just keep an eye on them if you can. Obviously if you get really worried then try and get help and report it if needed.
4. Report it If you need to, then report it through your organisations protocol. This will help protect the young person. If you can please tell them you are going to do this, as it will be worse for the young person if they don’t know that this is going to happen.
Tips if a Young Person presents at A&E with Self-Harm
1. Don’t Compare If a young person comes to A&E due to self-harm, then please try not to judge. The young person will already be quite distressed, so telling them that they don’t deserve to be there and that others have it worse doesn’t help. Don’t tell them that the people with a physical crisis are more important than them. And don’t tell them that it’s all in their head.
2. Don’t Guilt-trip Similar to the above, don’t guilt trip them. Don’t tell them they’ve done something “silly”. Don’t tell them that they are being selfish. It’s hard enough as it is, guilt tripping them will make it worse, and there’s no need for it.
Take home messages
1.Be Human Although I have given you these tips, the biggest thing for me is just being human. You just need to listen, and be kind. If you feel comfortable then draw on your experiences, if this is going to be helpful. This is something I always appreciated from others.
2. Look after you In relation to the point above, always make sure you are okay to deal with what you’re going to deal with. Look after yourself, build a support network, and don’t take it all on yourself.
3. Signpost! In order to look after yourself have organisations that you can signpost this young person to. It’s really important as you’re not always going to be able to be there. It protects you and them.
How to speak to someone who used to Self-Harm. On a slight side note, I wanted to just write a little bit on how to speak to someone who used to self-harm. Personally for me, I really appreciate people just asking me if they see my scars, obviously in a polite way, but I really don’t mind it. I’m used to children asking me now and my response is always that I was ill, and that’s fine. I’d rather someone asked than just stared at my arms.
But on the other hand, some people might not want to talk about it and that’s fine. Just don’t stare and don’t be rude about it. If you think they might be having a relapse just let them know you are there for them.
I really hope this is helpful, and I’m sending lots of love to those of you who are struggling right now or supporting someone who is.
For more information on Self-Harm visit the following
Calm Harm – App
Samaritans- 116 123
The Mix-0808 808 4994
Childline- 0800 1111
If in immediate risk present to A&E or call 999