What to do if you suspect your friend needs help.
It’s difficult to know what to do when you think your friend might be self-harming. That’s why we’re here to help you spot the signs and to discover ways to support them the best you can. It’s also important to recognise that your friend may need help from adults and/or professionals, and that your help alone might not be enough. We’ll signpost ways to get further help at the bottom. 👇
Spotting The Signs Of Self-Harming
You may have already spotted odd scratches or scars on your friend’s body and suspect they have been self-inflicted. You might have noticed changes to their behaviour, like mood swings, depression or outbursts. Other physical and behavioural signs to look out for include:
- Scars – these can often appear in patterns due to the injury being self-inflicted and not accidental.
- Bite marks or unexplained marks on the skin.
- Redness to the skin as if it has been excessively rubbed to create a burn effect.
- Bald spots or signs of their hair being pulled out.
- Blood stains on clothing or body.
- An insistence on wearing clothes that hide the arms and legs, even if it’s sunny and warm outdoors. They may also refuse to change in front of other people, such as in the changing rooms before and after PE.
- Keeping sharp objects like scissors on their person, in their bag or in their room.
- Unpredictable behaviour, such as mood swings and outburst.
- Low moods and teary moments.
- Confessions of low self-esteem or of feeling worthless, helpless or useless.
- Changes to their eating habits and diet.
- Excessive or obsessive exercising.
Why Do People Self-Harm?
Many people find it difficult to understand why someone would want to inflict pain on themselves. Self-harming can be very complex and is often used to reduce tension or to release overwhelming, extreme emotions. It can also be used as a way for a person to ‘punish’ themselves or to try and regain control over a situation where they feel incredibly helpless.
Self-harming is often linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Other causes include bullying, low self-esteem or grief. Whatever the reason, it can become a habit and, like all habits, is very hard to stop.
Helping Your Friend
It’s important to approach this situation with great care and understanding. Try to find a quiet moment to talk to your friend in a place you both feel comfortable where you won’t be disturbed or overheard.
Start by saying that you’re worried about them and that you’ve noticed changes to their behaviour or signs that concern you. Let them know that you’re there for them and that you’re ready to listen and to support them in any way they need. It can help to ask the question directly: “What can I do to support you?”
Make this conversation a safe space, free from judgement. Ask them about their thoughts and feelings and give them the breathing space to vent and express. Try your best to understand their emotions and don’t ever close them down or diminish their feelings. Never label their actions as ‘attention-seeking’ or ‘silly’ – this invalidates the pain and suffering they’re going through and will close down communication.
Most importantly, talk to them about seeking help. You can encourage your friend to talk to an adult or to speak to their doctor. You can also encourage them to talk to a helpline if they don’t want to confide in an adult they know.
If you think your friend is in danger of seriously hurting themselves, or has a life-threatening injury, call 999 straight away.
Support for your friend can be found here:
- Childline on 0800 11 11
- Samaritans on 116 123 (or email email@example.com)
Support for family and friends of someone who self-harms: