I am afraid someone I know may be self-harming. What can I do?
Self-injury or self harm is any deliberate, non-suicidal behaviour that inflicts pain or physical injury onto a person’s own body. Many people develop this behaviour as a coping mechanism that enables them to deal with intense emotional distress.
The majority of self-harmers start between the ages of 13-15, with more female cases than male. Both the frequency and severity may also increase over time.
A warning sign may be unexplained cuts or scratches, or weak excuses for these. Mood changes like depression or anxiety, out-of-control behaviour, changes in relationships, communication problems, or decline in school performance are also alarming factors. Another tell-tale sign is when the person wears long sleeves and trousers, even in warm weather and may be uncomfortable exposing any areas of skin.
If you believe that someone you know is self-harming, first of all I would suggest educating yourself on the issue. There are many websites that offer advice and information. The next step could be to talk to the person. If they have told you about this, it indicates that they are looking for help. If not, they may be ashamed about their behaviour.
It is crucial to be non-judgemental and supportive. Let the person know you are there for them and that you do not see them differently than before. They are still the same person.
Focus on the underlying problems rather than the physical manifestations. Don’t ask to see the injuries or ask how they hurt themselves. Rather focus on the reasons why they do it. Are they under pressure at home, school or socially? Encourage them to make use of the resources available to them. There are many support groups, websites and help-lines available.
It is also important to take care of yourself. Helping someone else cope can take its toll on you. The contacts below also help the people surrounding the sufferer. Don’t be afraid of asking for help for yourself too.
Teen Line Ireland helpline Tel 1800 833 634 or text “HEADSUP” to 50424 for a free, up-to-date list of services and numbers.
The Letterkenny Youth Information Centre also operates a text information service – telephone 074-9129640 to talk to a member of staff.