Be an Ally: What should I do if a friend is hurting themselves?

Written by Katilyn Dalton-Wise, LCSW

If you discover that a friend is self-harming, the most important action that you can take is to stay calm. It is really alarming and upsetting to learn that someone that we love is in enough pain to hurt themselves. Try to focus on the feelings that your friend is telling you about instead of the behavior itself. If you listen to why they are doing what they are doing, you will be able to have a clearer understanding of how to help. You also may not be able to relate to the self-harm, but can probably relate to feelings of being in pain. When we can have empathy for what someone is going through, we are able to be more helpful.

Step #1 – Tell a Trusted Adult

Step #2 – Crisis Text Line- Pass 741741 On To A Friend

Step #3 – If your friend has injured themselves severely, believe the injury may be life-threatening, or an attempt at suicide, do NOT leave them alone and call 911 immediately.

Other Ways to Help

Be clear and kind. It is important to have an honest and non-judgemental conversation with your friend or loved one about staying safe:

  • Tell your friend that you really appreciate their honesty.
  • Tell them that you wish they weren’t having such a hard time.
  • Tell them you understand they’re struggling but you are really worried about them.
  • Encourage them to reach out to a trusted adult (parent, teacher, school counselor, coach, medical professional or another adult they trust) to help navigate these feelings and get the help that is needed to ensure they are safe and cared for.
  • If you are concerned at all about their safety, let them know that even though you appreciate them trusting you, their safety is the most important thing to you and that you are going to have to notify a caregiver/school counselor/coach.
  • Call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255) or use their webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.