Many teenagers who self-harm will go to great lengths to give the impression that nothing is wrong and nothing out of the ordinary is happening. However, you may pick up on certain signs that indicate to you that they are self-harming and needs help. Always keep in mind however that even if a friend shows these behaviours it doesn’t necessarily mean they are self-harming – they may be going through a difficult or stressful time. However, you may still like to keep an eye on them.
Friends are often the first to notice or to know that someone is struggling with a problem. A person who is worried about their changes in moods, thoughts or behaviours will often confide in a friend. A friend may therefore act as a support in helping someone confront the issue.
- Worry about asking your friend if there is a problem in case it affects the friendship.
- Worry that you are over reacting or hope that it is a ‘passing phase’.
- Feel hurt or angry that your friend is behaving in this way.
- Feel ‘left out’ due to the secrecy of the condition (the condition can often be a ‘competitor’).
- Not know if you’ve got it right or how best to act in the circumstances.
- Feel insecure about the concerns it raises about yourself, whether it’s about you as a friend or about how you feel about yourself.
- Feel bad at going to social occasions on your own when it used to be the two of you.
4 identification facts
- Your friend has cuts, burns, marks, on their body regularly.
- Your friend covers their arms and parts of their body even when it’s very warm and it’s not something they’ve done before.
- Someone in your friend’s family or friendship group self-harms.
- Your friend carries out a lot of risky behaviour as though they don’t care for themselves and often hurt themselves in a lot of different ways – for example getting into constant fights, drinking too much, driving too fast.
4 stages of bringing about change
- Talk to your friend – listen but don’t criticize. Don’t mention self-harm to start off with – they may be embarrassed – but do mention your concern.
- Don’t be surprised or offended if they are not willing to listen to you, leave some time for the words to sink in and then think about approaching them again.
- Tell your friend you are worried about them and encourage them to speak to someone responsible. This could be a teacher you can approach, a parent, a peer counsellor or a school counsellor.
- Make sure that the person you chose to approach is appropriate and can deal with the problems your friend has.
- If your school has links with stem4, we will be working with your school to establish an identified person/people you can approach.
- Offer to support her or him by: finding useful information about their condition (stem4 website) accompanying them to see someone who can help (named peer counsellor at school, school nurse, school counsellor, sibling, parents, parents of another friend, G.P., practice nurse)
- But don’t feel too responsible – supporting a friend is difficult, and it affects our emotional well-being which is nothing to be ashamed of. Only help where you can, it’s not your responsibility to ‘treat’ your friend, and it’s very difficult to change someone.
- Make sure you take breaks from looking after others, so you can take your mind off things and relax.
- Look after yourself – take steps to talk to someone to.