NEED HELP NOW? 1800-448-3000
Fact Sheet

Worried about a friend who is self-harming

29

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 to change how they are feeling when they are depressed or angry, or because they are frustrated or don’t know what else to do.

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.

You may want to support your friend by going with them to the hospital. This may help to reassure them.

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. For more information about psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, you may want to check out the Get Help section of ReachOut.

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.

If possible, it is a good idea to be honest with your friend, letting them know that you will have to let someone know if they tell you that they are harming themselves. If your friend chooses not to tell you things on that basis then that is their call. This way you are not being put in a situation where you feel like you are breaking their trust or risking them harm.

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 needs 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;
  • Take a cold shower;
  • Carry a token to remind you of something comforting or peaceful;
  • Write in a journal;
  • Color in coloring books;
  • Make a phone list of people you can call 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, you can call Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, run by Boys Town (for everyone). They may be able to offer you support, advice, and encouragement. If you feel your friend is in serious crisis or is thinking about suicide, you may also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for advice.

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.

Last Reviewed July 6, 2009

 

Where to Next?

Comments

Responses

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    Electriccow

    Any suggestions of what to do if they are adults? I had friends cut when they were in middle school. But when I was in middle school it was more of a “cliche” thing that an actual coping thing, so I never did anything. I just graduated high school and I am now in college. Except I am considered a sophomore in college because of my dual credit school. So most of the people in my class are well over 20. I just turned 18.

    My friend’s grandpa just died. She’s been pretty devastated but she seemed to be coping. I just saw her though and she had multiple cuts on her arm. They were clean, straight, and definitely recent. I don’t know what to do. A little help?

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      You’re a great friend, to care so much.  Everyone should have someone like you!

      Most of the tips in the fact sheet can still apply, even if the person is an adult.  The main thing would probably be to just let her know that you support her.  You could tell your friend about the ReachOut Forums, and suggest she seek help there.  You both are always welcome there, where you can discuss this, and any other issue.  To get there, just click the word “Forums” at the top of this page, or go here:  http://us.reachout.com/forums/forum.php

      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    avem

    Hello hi alright so I’m in a pretty exhausting situation where I have a friend online that self-harms. I met them on Twitter through another friend. When I first found out my friend- let’s call them Person A for now- self-harm was when I was 12, and them 13, I was really really shocked. Now, I live in the Southeast of Asia, and the schools here would always forbid self-harming, and I thought I got the gist of it just because the ‘expert motivators’ would show examples of girls self-harming and eventually becoming suicidal because of relationship problems. I thought self-harming was stupid, and I had live with that thought for a long while, until Person A showed up.

    Person A’s situation is really complicated. They didn’t come out straight with what is happening to them at all, and I only found out about their problem and their self-harming tendencies after we’ve been friends for over a year. But I’m sure it’s only typical since they do not know me in real life, and neither do I them. For the sake of privacy (because I’m sure they will not be comfortable if I posted their problem in a public forum) I will not go any further about their problem. Moving on, when Person A told me that they self-harm, the first emotion I felt was outrage. I scolded them and told them forcefully to stop self-harming themselves, using harmful and toxic words like ‘stupid’ and ‘ignorant’. Person A stopped talking to me for a month. After that, another friend of mine told me that my action was wrong, that Person A was already stressed out of their mind and I was adding fuel to the fire. I soon found out that maybe Person A wanted someone to lean on to, to make them feel that everything wasn’t as shitty as they thought it is. I was in the wrong, and I tried to fix my actions. But a mere apology didn’t fix our friendship, though Person A would still reply to me sometimes. So, when I see Person A tweeting again, I started talking to them. Person A said they were fine, but we weren’t that friendly with each other anymore. Then here comes the exhausting part: Whenever Person A creates a tweet that clearly shows them being suicidal and will self-harm, I will try to stop them as gentle as possible, because it has been four years and I do not want the same mistake to happen again. I try to advise them without sugar-coating my words, and when I thought I had helped them in a way, they show no signs of stopping, and self-harms.

    What should I do? I tried to apologize for offending them even though they didn’t show it. I tried to help them cope and give them suggestions about how to avoid self-harm, but it seemed like they didn’t care anymore. It seemed like the methods I use to try and help doesn’t apply to them because their problem is more serious. It seemed like only by self-harming they could achieve peace. I’m afraid they might even off themselves one day. Person A have also overdosed many times when I asked their friends that lives in the same country as them.
    I am afraid my effort is actually wrong, and I am making it worse for them. I am afraid they think I am a hindrance. I am afraid to stop talking to them, but I am also afraid to continue.

    What should I do? Please help me help my friend.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      What a difficult and frustrating situation, to be so far away, and so helpless.  You’re a great friend, to care so much, and feel so deeply.  Person A is lucky to have you, even if they don’t recognize it yet.

      It really sounds like you are doing the right things. You may just have to stay emotionally close to the person, letting them know that you’re available to talk, or help distract them if they want to refrain from self-harm.  But you really can’t make them WANT to.  That has to come from within them.  You can stay near, so you’re available when they finally come to that realization, though.  It’s really hard!

      You might like to discuss all of this in our peer-to-peer forums, where you can talk it over with people your own age, anonymously of course.  To get there, just click “Forums” at the top of this page, or go to this link: http://us.reachout.com/forums/forum.php  The log in you made here, also works there.

      Hope to see you there!
      —The ReachOut Crew

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      What a difficult and frustrating situation, to be so far away, and so helpless.  You’re a great friend, to care so much, and feel so deeply.  Person A is lucky to have you, even if they don’t recognize it yet.

      It really sounds like you are doing the right things. You may just have to stay emotionally close to the person, letting them know that you’re available to talk, or help distract them if they want to refrain from self-harm.  But you really can’t make them WANT to.  That has to come from within them.  You can stay near, so you’re available when they finally come to that realization, though.  It’s really hard!

      You might like to discuss all of this in our peer-to-peer forums, where you can talk it over with people your own age, anonymously of course.  To get there, just click “Forums” at the top of this page, or go to this link: http://us.reachout.com/forums/forum.php  The log in you made here, also works there.

      Hope to see you there!
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    ag30052001

    hi
    my friend has recently told me that she used to self harm, she cut and burnt because she felt alone. i am very worried because she is moving to a new school next year and if i lose contact with her i don’t want her to do anything stupid. she is moving because of a group of girls that give her a really bad time (that was why she cut) but now she has made new friends (me) but has recently started again because she dose not want to go anymore now she has real friends.
    1. how can i help her stop
    2. do u think the new school will be a fresh start or will she cut even more

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      You sound like a great friend, to care so much.  Maybe you can talk to your friend about what she needs from you, and see if there are specific ways you can support her.  Remember that it’s pretty easy to stay in contact, even at different schools, and you can still be supportive, even if she’s not nearby.

      Don’t forget to take care of yourself, as well!
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    J_Solomon

    Hey, my friend recently told me that she broke up with her boyfriend and that she has cut and burnt her arms and face.
    I don’t know how bad it is just yet but she knows it was a mistake and stupid.
    She feels really down and can’t talk to her parents about it. I’m the only one she talks to but anything I try to say to support her doesn’t have much effect.
    I hate seeing her like this and I’m worried she will do something she’ll regret.
    What else can I do?

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      We are so sorry that your friend is going through this difficult time.  It’s probably hard for you, too, to try to support them.  Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.  Hopefully some of the tips in this fact sheet were helpful for you.  It’s great that you’re there for your friend.  Maybe encourage them to read some of the ideas for alternatives to self-harm, and just keep the conversation open!

      You and your friend could also join our forums.  You’re already registered, since you posted here.  Just click “Forums” up at the top of this page, and you’re there.  You can get peer support there, and just discuss whatever you want!

      See you there,
      The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    pizzaslice

    I found out my friend had been self harming for a few years, last spring. Recently my friend has been feeling worse and she doesnt know what to do, she turns to me for help but i dont know what to do either. My friend said they havent felt this low before. My friend missed college the other day and is often very upset. She told me she thinks she is ill and not stable. What do i do? do i let my tutor know? I have no idea how to go about this and i have been on various websites, all telling me to listen and give alternate options. But when she asks for help, i dont know what to say and i feel i cant help. I just want my friend to be ok.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      It sounds like you’re a really good, caring friend who just isn’t quite sure how to help.  I’m glad you came here to find more information.

      Like the fact sheet says, if you think she’s in danger, it’s probably time to tell someone else who can help.  You mentioned your tutor… maybe that’s a good start.

      At the same time, be sure you’re taking care of yourself.  This can be a very stressful time for you, as well.

      We care,
      The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    xXbrokengirlXx

    I have a friend… She has suicidal thoughts constantly and she cuts herself… I don’t know what to do for her… I want to tell someone but I don’t want to lose her as a friend… I know what she’s going through… I’ve been in her position before many times… But I got help and got through it… She refuses to get help… She feels like she has to always be strong… Like she has to hide her feelings and help everyone else… And I don’t know what to do….

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      I’m sorry that you and your friend are going through this.  It’s great that she has you on her side.  Maybe you can just let her know through words and actions that you’re there for her, and make sure she knows she doesn’t need to be strong around you. Either of you could also call the helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, and talk to them about what’s going on.  The helpline is run by Boys Town, and it’s for everyone, and available 24/7.  And don’t forget that if things get to the point of an emergency, you should just pick up the phone and call 911.

      Take care,
      The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    fearless04

    Today my friend told me that she has been self-harming, it started about a year ago after her parents divorced and has been going on since then.  She didn’t want me to tell anyone, and I want to respect that.  But I feel like she should get some help with this, and I’m not exactly sure I’m the person to do this.  Should I tell her mom, or do you have any suggestions for how I can help her myself?

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      Hi fearless04. Your friend is lucky to have someone who cares about her so much. You could try encouraging her to talk to someone. If she doesn’t feel like she can talk to her parents right now, she can call the Boys Town Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. It’s free, confidential, available 24/7, and not just for boys. You don’t have to keep this secret for her because self-harming is dangerous and she does need help. Keep in mind that she might be angry for a little while if you tell someone, but consider that it might be the best thing for her in the long run. And remember to take care of yourself! Stuff like this can be really stressful so make sure you take some time out for yourself.

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    livelaughlove5sos

    My best friend just told me and a few other friends that she broke, that she now cuts. I… well, all of us don’t know what to do for her… I told her I’m here for her, but she only wants to be alone… She doesn’t want us telling any of her family or teachers or anybody that she does cut… I just don’t know what I can do for her…Thank You…

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      Hi livelaughlove5sos. We’re sorry to hear about your friend who is cutting. You sound like a really good friend. It can be really hard to figure out what to do in these situations. Just continue being her friend, being there for her, and encouraging her to tell someone that can help her find a healthier way of coping with whatever she’s dealing with. If she doesn’t want to tell her parents or another trusted adult, you can encourage her to call the Boys Town Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. It’s free, confidential, available 24/7, and not just for boys. And remember to take care of yourself too! You can be a friend, but ultimately her choices are not your responsibility.

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    Julie Fiddler

    I moved to a new school and made a friend, He was nice and all. But I moved back. He would phone and we would email eachother. He confessed to me on the phone that he liked me and on the email he confessed to me that he loved me. Then he says he wants to commit suicide. He said no one can stop him and he’s sorry he brought this up on me. I’m so worried about him since he lives so far away. I would call him to ask him to come visit, but I don’t think we have long distance. But I’ve felt the way he does, alone. I had suicidal thoughts but I know now not to do it. I’m going through a difficult time already. I don’t know what to do. I can’t think about my life without him.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      Thanks for writing to Reach Out and sharing this very difficult situation. The very best thing you can do is let a responsible adult know that your friend is thinking seriously about suicide. Do NOT keep this a secret. Your friend needs help now. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK (8255) for assistance. Another option is to call the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000, available 24/7. Boys Town is also available for email support online at http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/aboutus/Pages/ContactForm.aspx or through a live chat feature at https://secure.yourlifeyourvoice.org/YLYV_Chat. You can check out the Get Help section on ReachOut.com for more information about the Lifeline and Boys Town.
      And it sounds like you are having your own tough time. Please do not keep these feelings to yourself. Do you have a school counselor that you can speak with, or a teacher who will listen? Can you let your parents know? You may find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional. Things will get better, but right now when they seem the hardest having someone to talk to can help. Again, the Get Help section on Reach Out can give you more information on different types of mental health professionals and how to find one in your area. The most important thing is that you take action now to help yourself and to help your friend.

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    Maria

    My friend cuts himself. He’s severely depressed, and he once expressed suicidal thoughts to me. I’ve told my counselor about this, and he recommended that I try to persuade my friend to receive counseling. I have tried, and tried, and tried, but he won’t go and he won’t tell me why. We tell each other EVERYTHING. Now whenever my friend is feeling down, he won’t talk to me because he knows I’ll just bring up counseling again. I love him, and I’m losing him. I don’t know what else to do.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      Sharing your worry with an adult you trust is one of the best things you can do. You may want to go back to your school counselor to let that person know that you are having trouble getting your friend to seek help. If you need to speak with someone immediately about your concerns you can always call the Boys Town National Hot Line at 1-800-448-3000. You may also find the Listening to a Friend Who Need You fact sheet on Reach Out to be helpful. http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/listening-to-a-friend-who-needs-you
      The Reach Out Crew

      • avatar1

        Reply - Quote

        ReachOut

        Thank you. It’s comforting to know there are people out there to help me and my friends.

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote

    lily

    My friend is 11, and she really needs help. She has suicidal thoughts, and cries, because her brother got taken away….What can I do?

Commenting has been closed for this entry.