Self-harm, much like eating disorders, suicide, and other mental health conditions, is still such a stigmatized topic even today in 2022.
Mental Health America (2020) affirms that “self-injury often begins around the ages of 12 to 14, and it is most commonly the result of feelings of sadness, distress, anxiety, or confusion. Teenagers often use self-injury as a way to cope with these negative emotions. Recent studies have found that one-third to one-half of adolescents in the US have engaged in some type of non-suicidal self-injury, although some studies put the rate at 13 to 23 percent”.
My daughter, aged eleven, has disclosed to me this year that the subject of self-harm has come up with her friends. “She told me she wanted to hurt herself, Mom. I’m not sure if I should tell or not.” In the end, she did tell a trusted adult (besides me), and I am grateful she was brave enough to do that!
Signs of Self-Harm
So, what are the signs that someone you love may be hurting themselves?
- You notice your loved one has frequent bandages and bruises.
- He or she begins wearing long shirts and pants, even in warm weather.
- He or she is withdrawing from activities that were previously enjoyed.
- Your loved one is expressing frequent feelings of hopelessness or despair.
4 Tips for Helping a Friend Who Self-Harms
Like like other stigmas, the danger with self-harm is that those who are suffering may not feel comfortable seeking out help. As friends and relatives, this can make us feel powerless. However, sometimes the best thing we can do is simply start the conversation and provide support when possible.
If you do notice someone you love exhibiting signs of self-harm, here’s what you can do to help.
Ask your friend if they are hurting themselves. If they are, they may feel grateful to have the conversation started.
Laci, who formerly struggled with binging and bulimia, states, “no one really seemed to notice during all this, or at least not enough to try and get me help.” Although the conversation will be difficult, if your friend is wanting help but is not sure how to go about asking, being a safe place for them to discuss the struggle is a great starting point in recovery.
You may be afraid to ask whether or not your friend is hurting themself because you do not want to plant that thought in their head. However, this is a myth and is not supported by research.
Recognize that self-harm is not a cry for attention
It is important to view self-harm as a means to deal with stressful emotions, not a cry for attention. Validate your loved one’s emotions by avoiding the use of judgemental language, empathizing with their situation, and letting them know that you accept their truth. Never minimize their feelings or accuse them of seeking attention.
Recognize that self-harm is not “just a phase”
Many adults who injure themselves or even try to commit suicide often started to do so in their adolescent years. That’s why when it becomes apparent that your loved one is harming themselves, it is important to help them seek help as soon as possible.
On the same token, it is also important to note that making demands and forcing those engaging in self-harm to take actions that they may not be ready to take is not helpful. You cannot “force” someone to stop harming themselves. You can, however, remove the means by which they are harming themselves (sharp objects, medications, etc.).
Further Resources on Self-Harm
If you found this article helpful, check out these additional resources on self-harm.
- The Lily-Jo Project’s self-harm resource page
- Emma’s story We All Have Urges – Breaking the Stigma of Self-injury
- Beki’s story From psych ward to psychology degree…
- Helpful contact information and support from Mind
Finally, here at The Lily Jo Project, we understand how difficult facing these often stigmatized issues such as self-harm in someone you love alone can be. We seek to offer a community where readers can ask questions and gain strategies to use when having the “tough” talks with our children.
I moderate the group, and we would love to have you! You can request to join here – looking forward to seeing you there!
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is a care coordinator for a local mental health agency in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com) – her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.