More than a third (36%) of 16 to 25-year-olds have self-harmed at some point in their lives, a new poll has revealed, and just under half of people (46%) know what action they’d take to help a friend.
The poll by Self-Harm UK, The Mix and YoungMinds made it abundantly clear that many of us wouldn’t know where to begin if we needed to support a friend who is self-harming.
Simply brushing it under the carpet isn’t helpful, nor is treating them differently. In light of the findings, we asked mental health experts for their advice on being there for a friend or loved one.
“It is shocking that self-harm remains so prevalent among young people as they struggle to manage their emotional wellbeing,” said Chris Martin, chief executive of The Mix. “What is clear from this survey is that peer support can potentially play a huge role in helping young people to recover.”
Charities agree that you shouldn’t panic if you’re unsure how to help a friend who is self-harming, in fact a lot of the time “simply being there [for them] is enough”.
If you suspect a friend is self-harming, but they haven’t told you outright, it can be hard to know what to do next. Ruth Ayres, Mental Health Project Manager for Self-Harm UK, said it’s important that you wait for your friend to come to you: “Self-harm is a very personal thing and we should be aware that young people need to disclose and talk about it in their own time. If we push the situation we can make it worse.
“If someone is really worried about their friend then I would advise talking to a trusted adult.”
If your friend does approach you about self-harm, it’s important to be there for them and offer to listen. “Allow the other person to speak without interruption or judgement,” said a spokesperson for Young Minds. “For them, self-harm may feel like the only way to express very strong and deep-rooted emotions. If someone feels able to open up to you this can be a huge breakthrough, so try not to jump to conclusions or make any fast decisions.”
It’s also important to realise that you can’t be their only source of support. They will likely need professional help. Young Minds recommends sitting down with your friend and helping them find support services in the area. Additionally, help them to make an appointment and offer to go with them.
Remember that there will never be a “quick fix” when it comes to mental health - some people self-harm for years as a way of dealing with difficult emotions or situations.
Things you shouldn’t do, according to Self-Harm UK
:: Try not to continually ask them about it
:: Don’t carry the weight of the problem on your own
:: Avoid telling your friend to stop harming
Ayres said keeping things as normal as possible in your friendship is key. “Try and still be there, make sure you are in it for the long-haul with them and try to keep things the same as much as you can.”
Sometimes it can feel like all of your energy is being channelled into supporting your friend, so it’s also crucial to take care of your self. “It’s hard to support someone if you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of your depth,” Young Minds’ spokesperson said. “Setting boundaries to what you can offer and getting support for yourself are important.
“Be honest about how you’re feeling and don’t take on more than you can cope with. If you’re feeling upset or struggling to cope yourself, talk to someone you trust – you’re doing a great thing by supporting your friend but if you’re worried or feeling down, make sure you speak to someone.”
Advice from mental health charity Mind:
:: Try to be non-judgemental.
:: Relate to them as a whole person, not just their self-harm.
:: Try to have empathy and understanding about what they are doing.
:: Let them be in control of their decisions.
:: Remind them of their positive qualities and things they do well.
:: Try to have honest communication, where you take responsibility for any fears you have.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org