Today, 1st March, is Self Harm Awareness Day. This is a critical issue that touches the lives of many people who struggle with mental health crises and, according to some statistics, is the biggest killer of those who are struggling. It may be the hardest thing you’ll hear someone talk about but it’s important that we do encourage people to disclose because talking itself is a form of therapy and because being honest with ourselves and those who love us is the first step to recovery. Here are some important things to do if someone tells you they are hurting themselves.
- Listen to their story. Give them time and space to tell you about themselves: no judgements; no advice; no interruptions (aside from maybe ‘You were telling me about…’); no reactions.
- Ask them: when did they last injure themselves and how? You’ll need to make an assessment about whether they need to go to A&E or not.
- Don’t make them promise to stop. Until they have some other way to cope with the emotions that trigger the harming they won’t be able to stop and you’ll be setting them up to fail.
- Encourage them to tell someone else if you’re the first person they’ve told. You might be able to offer to go with them to tell a parent or other family member. You could point them towards a pro-recovery website like selfharm.co.uk where they can disclose anonymously.
- If it’s appropriate in your relationship with this person, encourage them to get professional help. Unless you are a professional counsellor or psychiatric nurse, the likelihood is you don’t have the skills to help them begin to unpick the reasons why they do this. And this is a crucial part of recovery.
- Follow up. Next time you see them – or the next day if more appropriate – ask them how they are doing and be gentle but firm in not accepting ‘I’m fine’.
I am a freelance trainer for SelfharmUK. If you’re interested in training for your organisation around the issue of self harm then please contact Laura on firstname.lastname@example.org