the user-led self-injury organisation.

  • UK
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We know it may all sound weird, but how you react really matters

Initial reactions are very important. It will probably be very shocking for you to hear that your friend is self harming, and hard for you not to reveal your emotions or exactly what you’re thinking. If you can, try and stay calm and non-judgemental – it will help both you and your friend.

It takes a lot of courage to reveal something like this. It is not an act of attention seeking. Your friend may have been mulling it over for a long time and deciding who best to share it with. The fact they are telling you means they trust you. Please don’t abuse this trust by sharing this very personal revelation with anyone else. Think how you would feel if someone shared your biggest secret. (The exception to this is if you truly fear for their safety.)

If it’s all bit much for you to take in, please share this with your friend. It’s ok to ask to for time to digest what you have heard. Let them know you are there for them, but you just need a bit of time to let it sink in. They may have some material they would like you to read (ie, factsheet about self-injury, or perhaps something they have written for you) and may well expect you to need some time. Not everything needs to be said in one sitting.

When you are ready to have a longer conversation, make sure you are somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed and you’re both comfortable.

It’s important to take things at your friend’s pace. Yes, it’s ok to ask them questions, it’s natural to want to try to understand as much as possible why your friend is self-injuring. Don’t feel however that you have to have all the answers all at once. If you feel your friend ‘claming up’, back off a little with the questions and just try to ‘hear them’. Don’t be scared to crack a joke to lighten the mood! A little friendly laughter could relax you both. Don’t be afraid to ask what you might think is a silly question.

At LifeSIGNS we find it more helpful and positive to focus more on what drives a person to self-injure, rather than the act itself or any specific details. Self-injury is a coping mechanism, so it is good to know what it is your friend is trying to cope with. If they don’t feel they can share this with you, as frustrating as that may be for you, it’s ok. Don’t feel it is a slight on you or your friendship, it’s just something very hard for them to put into words.

Ask what you can do to help. They may not want you to do anything – just the relief that someone else knows can be a huge thing. They may ask if they can contact you when they feel the urge to self-injure, either just to talk things through or help distract them. Please only agree to this if it will not be a burden to you. It’s important that you look after your own well-being first and foremost. You can’t support anyone if you don’t look after yourself. It may be helpful to know what distraction techniques have worked for them in the past. We have a great list of ideas on our website, including the 15 minute rule.

Although it can be upsetting to think of your friend self-injuring, please do not give them a no-self-injury ultimatum. This may just leave your friend feeling isolated and hurting even more. The pressure of not hurting themselves because you’ve asked them not too will be too much to bear when urges and triggers are strong. By all means, help them through an urge or a trigger, help them with distraction techniques or just be there to listen, but please never ask someone to outright stop. Moving away from self-injury can and does take a long time.

Your friend has chosen to share with you that they self-injure. It’s great to be able to be there for them and support them, but it is not your responsibility. Encourage them, if they have not already done so, to seek professional help. Offer to go with them to their GP or a counsellor. If you’re at school, perhaps there is a teacher they trust or the school nurse. It’s not something you should force, but will be very helpful in the long run for both you and your friend.
Things to remember:

  • Self-injury is a coping mechanism;
  • It is not about attention-seeking;
  • It’s ok to ask for time to let the news sink in;
  • Take things at your friend’s pace;
  • If you are able to offer support, ask what you can do to help;
  • Don’t give a no-self-injury ultimatum;
  • Encourage them to seek professional help.

Most importantly – they are still exactly the same person as they were before they told you they self-injured.

More guidance to help you:


  • carla

    my friend just told me she self harms, im not sure how to respond because i dont want to make it awkward or say the wrong thing

  • Lottie Thomas

    I found out that my bsf self harms yesterday. She didn’t tell me and she doesn’t know that I know. I have know idea what to do as a around two years ago she was sh and i knew and i helped her and thought she stopped. By the end of it I was a wreck and I didn’t tell anyone this. I really don’t want to go through that feeling again but I feel that’s the only way she can recover. I don’t want her to know I know as I feel this will make it worse but I don’t know how I can help her without her knowing. What should I do?

  • Ell

    My friend has just relapsed after several days but i don’t know what to say or do! i feel helpless but i want be there for them, what should i do?

  • Mary

    My friend just left me because i self harm. A lot of people know i sh but not really on purpose, i treat it more like a joke so no one would get too worried and so i can lie to myself like that. But she left. She said that sh is sick and told me i have phycological problems. I am not mad neither sad,just numb. Confused. I always tried to make all of my problems like a joke that people can laugh at so no one would realise how horrible evrything is. I want to make it up and become friends with her again but i also cant forgive her. That probably sounds selfish but it felt like a huge betrayal. Can someone tell me if i am on the wrong here?

  • Mar

    My friend just told me she self harms a few days ago and I don’t know how to help her get through this. I feel so bad because she’s such a good friend and I wanna help her I just don’t know how and I feel like it’s making me a bad friend for not being able to do anything

  • Atison

    My friend told me she started to self harm again and I really want to help her but I don’t know what to say to make her feel comfortable with me and calm please help and tell me what I could tell her

    Thank you <3

  • Diana

    my internet friend just told me she self harms. even though we never met, she means the world to me. i can’t stop crying because i’m just 14 and i don’t know what to do. it’s 1am and i’m trying to document myself as much as i can. i really want to help her but i’m clueless since i’ve never been in this situation or her situation before. i hope everything works out well and we get through this together. – diana xx

  • Mary

    If someone tells you that they tried self harming or that they do self harming, if you are shocked or surprised-tell them this, do not stay silent. Also tell your friend or family member you love them.

  • Am

    My friend just told me that he has relapsed and has started self harming again and I don’t know what to say or do to help him.

  • Heather

    A friend told me that he self harms, he woudlnt tell me why just that it was about something that happened years ago. Im upset for him but how can i help him? He says doctors just make him worse plz help me to help him

  • Chloe

    Hi Hannah,
    A couple of months ago I went through the same process. sometime its just easier to sit and listen to her and let her do all the talking because I sure didn’t know what to say to my friend.
    Also I realized that pushing your friend to talk is not always the best way. I just went to him straight and told him I knew he was self harming and told him that I was always here to talk.
    when I went through the rough stages of depression myself I wanted to keep it to myself but one day my best friend did exactly that and helped me through it… Now I realize that there are millions of possibilities to help my friends and myself e.g. family, doctors and even the internet.
    Chloe xx

  • Hannah

    I have a friend who just pointed out her self harm injuries tonight. I was severely depressed about a year ago and used to self harm so I know what she is dealing with but I also feel very clueless on how to help her. She is very open about her depression and even jokes about it sometimes; therefore I never had the impression that things were that bad for her. I don’t really know what to do, and I feel helpless. I don’t want to push her away but I don’t want her to get into this too deep. But maybe she already has, I don’t know.
    Anyway, thanks bunches.


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