This is the final article in the #talkingisharmless series, written to mark Self Harm Awareness Day. We hope it will raise awareness of self harm, debunk myths, and provide information on how to get help for self harm. The campaign was created by Cheryl Thomson, Christy Sandbergen, Kane Jansen, Steve Murison, and Mel Wharton, all from Penumbra.

How do I support someone who self harms?

One of the best things you can do for someone who is self harming is to give them time and space to talk about their self harm without fear of judgement or negative reaction.

A person who is self harming may struggle to tell you about their self harm, and may find it difficult to verbalise their emotions. They may also be worried about how you will react. Be patient, understanding and non-judgemental in your approach, and let the person know that you are there to listen and to support them.

It is very common for people who self harm to be told to stop. Although it is natural to want to protect those close to us from harm, telling someone to stop self harming will not make their problems go away, it will only take away their means of coping. Self harm is not the main problem; it is a symptom of a greater underlying problem.

Supporting the person to explore the thoughts, feelings and emotions that are behind their self harm will often lead to the person feeling less overwhelmed. Don’t aim for the self harm to stop, empower the person to have more control over how they cope with their emotions.

Helpful ways to respond to someone who is self harming include:

  • Ask the person what they feel the problem is and how best to support them
  • Take the person seriously and listen to them
  • Be sensitive and compassionate about wounds
  • Be trustworthy and reliable
  • Emphasise that you are not trying to take the person’s self harm away from them
  • Help the person to explore difficult issues and to gain insight into the thought processes behind their self harm
  • Support the person to access professional help if they feel this would be helpful (please see the links at the bottom of this article for more information)

Self help for self harm

There are a number of things that a person who is struggling with self harm can do, either on their own or with support, to help with their self harm. Below are some suggestions:

  • Try to identify why you are self harming
  • Try to recognise your triggers and early warning signs by keeping a diary
  • Seek support from someone that you trust
  • Find out how to clean and care for injuries
  • Find additional or alternative ways of expressing your feelings e.g. art, music, poetry, writing, sport
  • Find out about distraction techniques (please see below)

If you or someone that you know are self harming, please know that you are not alone and that support is available. The following links provide information and support for self harm:

Share to raise awareness

Please help to spread awareness by sharing this article. You can also use the #talkingisharmless hashtag to share your own thoughts on self harm.

Get help

Find a Penumbra self harm service near you:

Join in the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – #talkingisharmless