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A voice and a choice for our mental health

Communicating about self harm

If you are self harming, you might feel lonely, isolated and like you can’t tell anyone about it – but you are not alone. Some people perceive self harm as “attention seeking” behaviour, but it’s clear that in most cases this is not true at all and most people feel they have to hide it. We really want to encourage you to talk about it and more importantly about how you’re feeling.

This could be anonymously through services such as the Samaritans and Tess (find their details on our Websites & Numbers page) or having a chat with a friend, family member, staff at school, college or university, GP, youth worker, or counsellor.

It’s understandable that talking to someone might feel difficult (maybe even impossible) to start with. Sometimes writing, drawing or painting how you’re feeling can help too. We’re not saying it will fix everything, but usually it can really help to get it out – it can help you realise what’s going on inside your head and how you’re feeling, as well as helping others to understand why you may be behaving differently.

Here are a few ideas that might help you to start a conversation about how you’re feeling or your self harm:

  • I’m finding (…) really hard right now.
  • Can we have a chat about (…)
  • I’ve being doing (…) to myself and I don’t know why.
  • If you’ve got a moment I could really do with a chat.
  • Can I talk to you in private please?

When talking to others about their self harm, it’s helpful to be aware that self harm is likely to be a coping mechanism they’ve developed to help cope with and manage emotions. Check out our Keeping Yourself Safe page to encourage them to do this in the safest way possible.

We understand it’s not an easy subject to broach but it’s so important to give people a chance to talk about what they’re doing – and more importantly why they’re doing it. It’s really key to listen, take them seriously, and be as open-minded and as non-judgemental as possible whilst someone is disclosing their self harm to you or talking about their feelings or what’s going on for them.

Probably the key thing to focus on (as long as they don’t need immediate medical attention) is why they’re self harming. Phrases like this might help you to start the conversation:

  • I’ve noticed that recently you don’t quite seem yourself, is there anything you’d like to talk about?
  • Is there anything I can do to help?
  • I can see that you’ve got/done (…) and I’m concerned about how you are.
  • Are you being safe in your self harming?

Self harm is a form of communication in itself

Self harm can be a way of expressing how you’re feeling, whether this is intentional or not. It’s not easy to talk about ‘how you’re feeling’, ‘what you’re thinking’ and ‘what’s going on for you’. This can lead to trying to find a way to cope with these things on your own. It can be very difficult to find the “right” words or words that can make/help people understand how you’re actually feeling inside.