Updated: Nov 12, 2021
One of the symptoms of depression is self-harm. Let me first explain what exactly self-harm is - it means to hurt yourself on purpose, this can be done in different forms (i.e. cutting or burning yourself). It is a harmful way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration. According to "The Recovery Village", about 17% of all people will self-harm during their lifetime and those rates are increasing which is why it is important to understand self-harm and learn how to support someone that self-harms.
When you find out a loved one has been self-harming, your initial reaction may be shocked, angry, or helpless. You probably don't know what to think, what to say, or how to help them. The most important thing is to not overreact or panic, overreacting will lead your loved one to become upset for telling you. If you found out on your own (i.e. saw the cuts on their body), it is very important to bring it up in a calm, loving way. The last thing you want to do is make the person feel uncomfortable or judged. Make sure they know how much you love and care about them and let them know you are there for them, no matter what. Try to relate to them as a whole and not just their self-harm. Be empathetic and try to understand why they may be choosing to self-harm. If they don't even know why they are self-harming, be understanding about that, as well. Do not tell them they are just "seeking attention" and try not to jump to the conclusion that are trying to kill themselves. Offer to help them find support or find alternatives to self-harm (see our blog post on alternatives to self-harm). Remind them again that you are here for them and want to offer your support in anyway that you can. Try to not immediately want them to stop, it can put them under a lot of pressure which could result in them self-harming even more. Instead, focus on putting together a plan of action for what they can do when they feel like self-harming next. Recovery is possible, with the right treatment, but relapse is a possibility, as well. Try not to be discouraged if they relapse, rather remind them of their strength and progress. Make sure they know you are still there for them, you still love them, and you are not angry with them (as they are probably already angry with themselves).
If you are worried about a loved one and need immediate assistance, visit our help page.