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How to Help a Friend You Think is Self-Harming

March 16th, 2022


Imagine, Amanda and you are eating lunch together on a summer day, in the park. Amanda rolls up her sleeves to begin eating, and you notice cuts and bruising on her arms. Amanda notices you looking, and she quickly rolls down her sleeve. You think to yourself, “Did you just uncover a troubling secret about Amanda?”

Discovering that your family or friends self-harm can be very difficult to process. You may sit and wonder what you can do to help Amanda or if you keep this a secret. So where do you start?

March is Self-Harm Awareness Month and it is an important time to understand self-harm. Self-harm, or self-injury, is a form of hurting oneself on purpose. Suicide may not be the overall intention or outcome, but itself-harm can lead to serious negative outcomes.

Reasons Why People Self-Harm 

Reasons Why People Self-Harm

Individuals with mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, may self-harm to cope with internal emotional pain or distress. The plan to self-harm due to mental health conditions is dangerous and can lead to one inflicting self-harm to the extent of extreme severity. Most individuals self-inflict on the wrists, hands, stomach, or thighs. Self-harm can range from mild self-injury such as scratching or picking wounds to more severe self-injury, such as cutting, burning, strangling, or hitting oneself.

Mental health conditions are not the only reason individuals self-harm. Other reasons can be intrapersonal or interpersonal. For example, an individual who has gone through some severe trauma may utilize self-harm as a way to negatively cope with overwhelming emotions or to feel some emotions. Other individuals may self-harm to seek attention from others or self-harm to meet interpersonal demands.

How to Help a Friend You Think is Self Harming?

How to Help A Friend You Think Is Self-Harming?

So, now that we understand the potential causes behind self-harm, the question arises, how can you help your friend, Amanda?

  • Recognize the warning signs

Some warning signs include difficulty handling emotions, avoidance of others, low self-esteem, scars or wounds in a linear pattern or shapes, concealing the scars or wounds, and unexplained scars or wounds.

  • Avoid judgment

In this case, Amanda may have felt you were judging her because you were staring at her arm. Those who self-harm may shut down because they become worried or anxious that they are being judged for suicidal behaviors.

  • Be supportive

Even though you do not know what to say at the moment, be supportive. Express support and provide help if needed.

  • Do not dismiss concerns

This could have easily been Amanda’s cry for help moment. Do not dismiss the interaction. Take action.

  • Seek understanding

Be genuine and accepting of Amanda. Understand her reasoning and purpose for self-harm. It may be helpful to seek a professional or a supportive friend’s help to see how you can help Amanda in this difficult time.

Treatment for Self-Harm 

Treatment for Self-Harm

It is important to also understand that Amanda needs professional help. After this conversation occurs with Amanda, it is important to let Amanda know she can find the right help and support she needs. Self-harm cannot be treated oneself and will not go away in a few days. Treatment of self-injury takes time and a commitment to change. Recovery is possible through many support systems in place:

  • Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can help Amanda address and manage the interpersonal or intrapersonal issues related to her self-harm. Psychotherapy is a safe space where Amanda can learn positive emotional coping mechanisms and skills to be able to support herself better.

  • Psychiatry

Psychiatry may be a good option for Amanda if she is interested in medication management. Amanda may be diagnosed with a mental health condition that is causing her emotional distress to self-harm. Medication may be a good choice to help with the emotional issues related to a mental health condition.

If Amanda is not ready for psychotherapy or psychiatry but is in a crisis, the self-harm crisis text line can be easily accessed. Text HOME to 741741 for immediate assistance.

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline

To avoid the risk of suicide, Amanda should reach out to 1-800-273-8255 if she is at risk of severe self-harm behavior.

If you or a loved one needs help with self-harm and wants to establish positive emotional coping mechanisms, please reach out to Clarity Clinic to schedule your first appointment with psychiatry or psychotherapy. We are always here to provide the help and support you need.

Written By: Khadija Manzoor, LPC

Clarity Clinic

At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.

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