Self-harm - Family, friends and carers
Information for friends, carers and relative
You may be feeling all sorts of different things if someone you know self-harms. Here are some tips on how to deal with the situation and support the person you care about.
How do I react when my relative self-harms?
Don’t take it personally. Self-harm is the way the person you care for deals with their distress. People don’t harm themselves to be dramatic, annoy others or to make a point. It isn’t your fault, even if the person says it is.
Be honest with yourself about how the self-harm makes you feel. It is ok to feel whatever you feel. You may be frightened, uncomfortable, feel provoked. Try not to react to stressful or emotional situations with anger or blame.
Should I learn about self-harm?
You may have a better understanding of what the person is going through if you educate yourself. You could contact mental health and self-harm charities for information. Or read books or join a support group.
What is my role as their carer?
Tell them you care for them if they self-harm or not. If possible make sure they have a safe place. Be as available as you can be. Set aside your personal feelings about self-harm and focus on what's going on for them. Be honest and realistic about what you can and can't do. Offer the person support if you think that you can help with something.
You may think about removing sharp objects or pills from the house. This can be an option if the person feels suicidal and you need to do something in a crisis. At other times this may not be helpful as for many self-harm is a coping technique.
Using punishments or trying to make them feel guilty for self-harm is not helpful. It is likely to make them feel more alone.
Accepting and understanding that someone is in pain doesn't make the pain go away. But it can make it more bearable for them to know that someone understands. Be hopeful about the possibilities of finding other ways of coping rather than self-harm. If they are willing, discuss possibilities for treatment with them. But don’t push them into anything. They will decide when they feel the time is right.
Be patient. You might find it difficult if the person rejects you at first but they may need time to build trust.
What is available to support me?
Take care of yourself. You can be more supportive if you aren’t tired and emotionally drained. Don't be afraid to take a break.
Get support. You can use online forums, support groups and telephone support services. Support groups for friends and family of people with mental health problems may be useful. While they may not only focus on self-harm, group members will understand how a caring role can affect you.
Look in here for contact details of some helpful services.
You can find out more about ‘Supporting someone with a mental illness’ here.
Need practical advice & info? We can help.
Contact our Advice team about mental health & related issues
0300 5000 927 Monday - Friday 9.30am - 4pm, not including bank holidays