Self injury is physically hurting yourself on purpose, commonly cutting, sometimes burning, picking at cuts or sores, head banging, punching or scratching oneself. Self injury is often mistaken for a failed suicide attempt and though it is indicative of emotional distress, it is generally not intended to be lethal. Even though it may not be apparent, self injury serves a function for your friend; it provides a means of relief from overwhelming pain, fear or anxiety; it’s generally repetitive and can become “addictive” as a means to cope. The self-inflicted pain produces chemical changes in the brain that makes one feel better.
How Do I Know There’s a Problem?
Generally people hide this behavior from their family and friends, so you may not know unless your friend confides in you. Confiding is a big step for a friend because they are worried about what kind of reaction they will receive. Know that your friend is not crazy. If your friend has chosen to confide in you, that is a likely sign that s/he trusts you.
What To Do
- Support your friend, listen
- Acknowledge their pain
- Ask how you can help
- Get support for yourself as it’s natural to feel helpless, overwhelmed, frightened, confused, angry. Know your limits as to how much help you are able to offer.
- Encourage your friend to talk to a counselor
- Dial a 24 hr crisis line for your friend so s/he can talk to someone when feeling the urge to self injure (Southern Arizona Mental Health Clinic, 520-622-6000)
- Encourage alternative activities as a distraction
- Help your friend develop a list of alternative coping strategies