What to Do If You Think Someone Is Self-Injuring
Because self-injury can lead to unintended serious—perhaps even lethal—injuries and may leave lifelong scars, it’s important to trust your instincts if you suspect someone you know is self-injuring. If you’re worried about a friend, it’s time to reach out to them—or to an adult you trust.
Here’s your guide to talking to a friend about self-injury.
Learn About Self-Injury
Before you discuss self-injury with your friend, it’s important to learn the basics about what it is and why people do it.
Generally speaking, people self-injure as a way to cope with painful feelings, or to make themself feel something if they are feeling emotionally numb. They are using it as a strategy to make themselves feel better. The problem is that it only works in the short-term, and it brings its own problems, such as the risk of infection, lifelong scarring, and serious injury.
Most people who self-injure are not attempting suicide, but for those people who have thoughts of suicide, self-injuring can signal that they may be at higher risk for suicidal thoughts or attempts.
For all those reasons, it is important to reach out to a friend you are worried about and offer your support—or reach out to an adult you trust and ask them to help.
Open the Conversation
Starting a conversation about self-injury can be difficult, especially if you’ve never discussed the subject with your friend. The best approach is to be low key, nonthreatening, and genuinely interested in what is going on with them.
Try asking them about what you’ve noticed. You could say something like, “I noticed the bandages on your arms. Sometimes bandages are a sign that someone has been self-injuring to feel better. Is it something you use to feel better?” Let them know you want to support them in seeking help.
It’s common for people who self-injure to keep it secret, so they may not want to admit it or talk about it. If they don’t, you can keep the door open for future conversations by reminding them you care about them and you’re a safe person to talk to, and offering to connect them with someone else they would feel comfortable talking to.
Support Without Judgment
If they are open to talking about it with you, let them know you are there to listen to what they are going through without judgment and see how you might help.
Express curiosity about why they are self-injuring and how they believe self-injuring helps them. Accept their responses as truth.
Offer to Connect Them to Help
You can share the resources below with your friend, offer to help them reach out to a school or campus counselor, or connect them to an adult they trust.
- Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
- Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
- If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.
Connect With an Adult You Trust
If you’re unsure if a friend is struggling with self-injury and they are not open to talk with you or you don’t know what to do next, consider expressing your concerns to an adult you trust. They may have insights into what your friend is experiencing and how to help. You can share this information with them, so they understand more about self-injury.
How to Get Help Right Now
If you need help right now:
Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.