It can be hard, but try to avoid reacting with shock, anger, or judgment. These types of responses make the person feel worse and more isolated.
Listen to them.
You don’t have to understand or agree with their behaviour to let them feel that their feelings are important. Listening to them without judgement helps them to feel heard, understood and less alone.
Let them know that you care about them and are glad they shared with you. It can help to acknowledge the strength and bravery it must have taken from them.
Don’t put pressure on them
It's important to avoid putting pressure on the person to stop self-harming – if it were as simple as just not doing it, they wouldn’t be in this position.
Be careful that your opinion about their behaviour isn’t interpreted as critical or shaming, as this can put them off wanting to tell anyone else what’s going on.
Instead, offer support and empathy. It’s okay to ask them what kind of support they need, while also acknowledging your limitations in how to deal with such issues.
Encourage them to seek professional help
It’s important to explain that self-harm is a serious issue that requires professional assistance, which you can’t provide.
However, you can offer to help them find a mental health professional or a healthcare provider who can help them.
Sometimes the person is resistant, in which case you can offer to help them make an appointment or go with them to the first appointment if they need extra support.
Develop a safety plan
Work together to develop a safety plan that outlines steps they can take when they feel the urge to harm themselves. This can include calling a crisis hotline (like SADAG), reaching out to someone they trust, or engaging in other coping strategies.
Keep checking in
Make sure to continue checking in with the person and showing you’re still there for them.
Don’t put pressure on them. Follow up if they’ve sought professional mental healthcare. Check in if they’ve been trying the coping strategies out, without placing too much pressure on them.
Take care of yourself
Helping someone – especially a loved one – who is self-harming can be really challenging and distressing. So it’s important that you also make sure to take care of yourself too.
If you’re feeling helpless, you can also reach out for support and guidance from a mental healthcare professional, counsellor or support group (like SADAG).
Helpful Resources/ Apps
Calm Harm – a brilliant app with LOTS of creative and healthy ideas for how to cope when distressed.