Have you ever looked at someone and noticed a series of scars on their wrists? Did you pass judgment about that person without knowing who they were or what they were going through? Likely.
Of the many symptoms of mental health conditions, self-harm is one of the least understood and least sympathized. It’s also one of the few physically visible symptoms. Therefore, it’s often responded to in a way that’s derogatory and potentially harmful. For example:
“That’s just teenage angst.”
“Why would anyone do that to themselves?”
“You’re just trying to get attention.”
These reactions grossly undermine how serious self-harm is. Self-harm is usually a sign that a person is struggling emotionally and isn’t sure how to cope. It’s a sign that a person needs support, understanding and professional help. Most importantly, it’s a sign that shouldn’t be ignored or judged.
Frame the conversation
If you notice a loved one is self-harming, reach out to them. Frame the conversation in a supportive and empathetic way. Show concern for their well-being and be persistent if they don’t open up right away. When having a conversation about self-harm, consider talking to them in a safe space, show them compassion, respect what the person is telling even if you don’t understand it, stay emotionally neutral, listen, Encourage them to use their voice, Encourage them to seek mental health care, offer to help them identity their self-harm triggers and offer them options for healthier coping mechanisms.
It is imperative that when having conversations, you stay open and don’t, express shock or horror, shame them, draw attention to their scars in public, pity them, joke about it, guilt them about how their actions affect others, give ultimatums, remind them how it looks or what people will think and above all don’t make assumptions.
After that first conversation, it’s important to follow up with your loved one to show your ongoing support. If they haven’t sought out care, continue to ask about it and offer to help them find a mental health professional.
Self-harm is a serious issue that should be addressed as soon as possible. One of the best things you can do is show your loved one you’re there for them and you care. You can always be helpful to someone even if you don’t understand what they are going through.
Laura Greenstein, [email protected]