How do I help a friend who is self-harming?

Depressed TeenI have three close friends that I hang out with every single day. I don’t consider them my friends anymore, they are more like sisters. We do everything together. There is never a day that we are not hanging out.

The day I found out that one of my friends was self-harming I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock but mostly I was angry. How did I not know that one of my best friends was hurting herself on purpose? I couldn’t understand why as she was known for always being happy and energetic. All I could ask myself was “How do I help her? The first thing she said to me when I found out was not to tell anyone or she would never talk to me again. I didn’t want to lose my best friend but what was worse, losing her over telling someone or losing her because I didn’t tell anyone? I did what was best and told a teacher at school. I don’t regret telling my teacher because I knew that I had just saved her life.

Finding out that a friend, or family member is self-harming can not only be shocking but confusing and upsetting too. But it’s important to understand that most people who self-harm are not doing it to get attention. In fact, they usually try to keep their behavior a secret and feel ashamed if someone finds out. A person who self-harms may say that their behavior (for example, cutting) is a way they cope with intense feelings that are associated with emotionally painful events.

Self-harming is a serious problem. People who self-harm can’t just stop. They need help and a lot of support. If you suspect that someone is hurting themselves, tell them you are concerned and you are there for them. Tell them they need to talk to a trusted adult. If they don’t follow-through, it may be up to you to tell someone such as their parent(s), guardian, teacher or guidance counselor.

  • Do not be judgmental
  • Be understanding, compassionate, and respectful
  • Ask your friend or family member how they are feeling
  • Be a good listener
  • Encourage your friend or family member to get help
  • Suggest that your friend write in a journal, do a craft, listen to music, etc. instead of self-harming
  • Understand that recovery is a long process but your friend/family member will get better with time and a lot of support

If you know anyone who is self-harming don’t be afraid to speak up. Even if your friend or family member stops talking to you, they’ll eventually come around. It’s more important to get them the help they need.

For more info, read our Self-Harm health guide.

– Astrid