Worried About a Friend Who is Self-Harming

Is your friend self-harming?

A brief look at self-harm and what you can do to help your friend in need

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when people deliberately hurt themselves. It is not necessarily a suicide attempt, and may not mean the person wants to die. Self-harm includes deliberately cutting, burning, biting and hitting your body.

The reasons why a person self-harms can differ, but they may be doing so as a coping mechanism when they are depressed, frustrated or angry, as a form of punishment, to gain a sense of control in their life, or as a way to feel something when they’re emotionally numb.

What to do in an emergency?

If someone has harmed themselves intentionally and is hurt seriously, it is important to get medical help. Call an ambulance (dial 911) right away. To reassure your friend, you may want to go with them to the hospital.

At the hospital, after the person has been physically checked, they will usually be assessed by a mental health professional. In big hospitals, this person will probably be a psychiatrist.

When do I tell someone else?

If you are concerned about your friend’s safety, it is important to let someone like a counselor, teacher or youth worker know what is going on. These people should be able to help you make sure your friend stays safe.

It may be a good idea to be honest with your friend by letting them know you will have to tell a trusted adult that they are harming themselves. This may make them less likely to share what they’re doing with you, however that is their call, or  they may still come to you because they recognize they need help. In some cases, breaking their confidence may be the best option to keep them safe and to save yourself from future regret.

How can you help?

Supporting a friend who is self-harming may be hard. Often the reasons why someone self-harms are complex and managing these reasons requires help from someone like a psychologist, psychiatrist or a counselor. Helping your friend might mean encouraging your friend to get help and then standing by them when they do seek help.

It may be helpful to encourage your friend to try some alternatives to self-harming. The following are a few things you might suggest:

  • Punching a pillow or punching bag;

  • Yell or sing loudly;

  • Try drawing, painting, or any other art that keeps your hands busy;

  • Take a cold shower;

  • Carry a token to remind you of something comforting or peaceful;

  • Write in a journal;

  • Write poetry or short stories;

  • Color in coloring books;

  • Make a phone list of people you can call or text when you want to self-harm - and then use it!

  • Plan activities for your most difficult time of day;

  • Ask for help.

If you feel you need some advice on how to help your friend or if you feeling your friend is in serious crisis, you can call Lines for Life’s YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 or text teen2teen to 839863. They may be able to offer you support, advice, and encouragement. To know more about crisis services in your area of Oregon, or some national helplines, visit our Crisis Helpline fact sheet.

Looking after yourself

Sometimes we can get so concerned about our friend that we may end up feeling stressed and anxious ourselves. If you are worried about your friend, you may find it helpful to share your concerns with someone you trust. If things start to become overwhelming it may help to take some time out. You may want to listen to some music, go for a walk, go shopping or hang out with other friends. It’s important to take care of your own mental health, too.


Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com