Family & Friends

Do you worry someone you know might be hurting themselves?

Do you know someone who always wears long sleeves even in the warmest of weather?

Have you seen marks on the skin that can't be explained? Such as scars, scratches, cuts or bruises?

Do you know that someone is self harming and think if they cared about you they'd stop?

How You Can Help

Supporting someone who self harms can be very difficult and challenging and it is important to recognise that. Knowing that someone you care about is in emotional distress can create many feelings including fear, anger, frustration, helplessness and sadness.

Try to ensure that you have a way of dealing with your own reactions and feelings to this as the person you are supporting is going to need all the patience, understanding and support you can give.

Remember that the individual you are supporting is in distress; their actions are not intended to make you suffer. Try to imagine how desperate you would have to be feeling to cause actual physical harm to yourself.

Many people who self harm feel completely ashamed and isolated by their difficulties. The best source of support you can give is to reduce this shame and isolation by providing an unconditional relationship. Allow the person to express their feelings whatever these may be as this might be fundamental to their recovery.
Don’t ask the person to stop harming themselves ‘for you’. If the individual works towards reducing or stopping their self harm they must do so in their own time and for their own reasons. If they just do it to make you happy it will not be sustainable or may cause them to hide it. It may also leave them feeling like you just want them to change; that they are not accepted or understood and this may in turn lead to them feeling even more isolated and distressed.
The most constructive way to deal with self harm is to stay calm, try not to be alarmed or show your fears. There are many things that can help: it may be that the individual needs structured therapy from a mental health professional, or that the compassionate support of family and friends is enough to aid their recovery.

Medical Treatment for Self Harm

There may be sometimes when the individual requires medical treatment for their self harm. If this is the case the individual should expect to be treated sensitively and with the same level of care and attention as any other patient. (There are a set of guidelines produced for NHS staff to advise them how they should treat people who self harm.)

Unfortunately this is not always the case, and it will help if you are prepared and able to advocate for the person who has harmed themselves. Be aware that going to a GP or A & E for treatment of self harm is most likely going to be a very difficult experience for someone who self harms as this is a very public arena for a very private act.

Try to ensure the individual is given a private area to speak to the health care professional and that they are given a choice in their treatment – even if their choice is one you disagree with.

Any individual who has self harmed has the right to pain relief and thorough treatment for their harm, and should not be exposed to judgment or criticism by the healthcare professional.

If the person is bleeding heavily, has taken an overdose or ingested a substance, take the person to A & E as this could be life threatening. We are not healthcare professionals and cannot give advice on first aid.

A majority of cases of self harm will not warrant medical intervention so individuals may never come into contact with healthcare services for their self harm. In these cases it is often beneficial for the individual to manage their own first aid by dressing their wounds and keeping them clean and dry, if necessary.