So let's take a moment to get self-injury back on our radar, continue to raise awareness, dispel the myths, and encourage sensitivity to the issue and to the individuals who struggle.
As a part of that, I'd like to share a post I wrote for my own site a couple years ago for teens helping teens, and yet it might offer some ideas for any who want to reach out to a friend who struggles:
Maybe you’re a friend to someone who self-injures. What do you do to help?
Does your friend know you know? Are you wondering how to approach her (or him)? Tell her you have seen the injuries, have noticed her sadness (or the signs and emotions that you have seen). Then ask if she wants to talk about it. If yes, listen and let her share what she’s able to. It may only be a sentence or two. If she’s not ready to talk, tell her you’re there to listen when she is ready. Sometimes just the awareness that someone else now knows and cares is a huge help.
Are you the only person your friend is turning to? That can become extremely difficult for you, if it isn’t already. Don’t do this alone. Self-injury is much deeper than a behavior or a coping mechanism. The emotion and pain and the stories behind the choice are much more complex than even she is able to handle. It would be a lot for you to try to carry for her.
Be honest and tell your friend that you can’t carry this alone and neither should she. Be a trustworthy friend in how you handle what she has shared with you in confidence, but at the same time know that it is helping both of you to get others involved.
Find a trusted and wise adult friend who you can talk to—preferably someone who knows about self-injury, who is able to help you bring God into the picture of healing, and who has good suggestions for balancing help and friendship with your own personal safety and emotional health.
Help your friend find others she can talk to who can help in the ways you can’t. If her family can be loving and supportive, offer to go with her to talk with a parent. Or help her set up a meeting with a pastor or community professional who has experience and compassion in helping those who struggle with self-injury.
Keep in mind that self-injury as a secret conceals more than the outer wounds and scars. The secrecy prevents the inner pain from being addressed and the person from moving toward healing. Connecting to a community that cares can be an essential part of moving out of the pain and toward hope. As her friend, your greatest contribution toward her healing could be helping her begin to make those connections.
Let's keep our hearts open to the conversations.
A few other posts and articles that might be of interest:
Helping Someone Who is Struggling, Part 1
Helping Someone Who is Struggling, Part 2
Helping Someone Who is Struggling, Part 3
When Someone Who is Struggling Comes to You
Parents Responding to Self-Injury (Guest post on Mommy Life Blog)
Long Sleeves in Hot Weather (Article that appeared in September, 2009 Light & Life Magazine)