It is common to be scared or sad if you are told that someone you care about is hurting yourself and feeling bad. There is much you can do to help the person. You can talk about how they feel, listen and help seek help if needed. You may need help yourself in order to be good support and to feel good yourself.

Self-harm may be to harm your body in some way or to expose yourself to something risky. If a person injures himself, take it seriously.

Common to be scared

It is common to be scared, shocked or sad if one is told that someone is hurting themselves. It can also express itself as anger. It can be scary to think about how the person is feeling. Maybe you think you would be a bad parent or adult if it is a child or young person hurting themselves. But many of those who hurt themselves have good relationships. Injury is often a way of trying to deal with painful feelings.

It is not dangerous to talk to a person about how they feel bad. Talking about it means you care, and it’s important. You do not need to provide answers or solutions. The most important thing is that you listen respectfully and try to understand the person’s situation, without judging or questioning. 

Different feelings can be aroused in you when you meet and talk to the person who is hurting himself. Be aware of those feelings so that they do not burden the person. For example, it may be good to wait for conversations until the feelings are no longer so strong.

How can I help someone who is hurting themselves?

You can do a lot for the self-harming person. You can support your loved ones to address their problems by listening, showing that you care, and encouraging them to seek help.

Tips when talking to someone who is hurting himself

  • Say that you understand what the person is doing. Try to be straight and direct, but do not sound angry. Show that you are worried and want to understand the person’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Talk about how the person is feeling. Let them tell you about their feelings. Try to just listen, even if you may disagree, for example, if they express thoughts that they are inferior to others. You can confirm that you have heard, and say, for example, “Okay, so you have very self-critical thoughts?”
  • Try not to give advice and solutions directly. You don’t have to. The important thing is that you are there. Wait for the person’s own thoughts. 
  • Do not accuse or threaten. Do not see the injury as a way for the person to get attention or influence the people around him. Looking at it so is usually not helpful. Say or show that you understand that it is difficult to quit and that the person needs help to find other ways to deal with their difficulties. 
  • Say that you want to understand and want to be a support for the person to feel better. Ask if they want help from you and what you can do in that case.
  • If you are the parent of a young person who is hurt: Think about if there are things that need to be moved or locked. Lock in medication if the young person has overdosed on tablets for example.

Help the person understand the causes

In order to stop hurting yourself, it is good to think about why you do it. You can help the person with this. Talk about what situations make them want to hurt themselves. What feelings do they have then? It becomes easier for the person to avoid hurting themselves if they learn to recognize the situations or feelings that usually cause them to want to hurt themselves.  

There is almost always a purpose to harm yourself. Does it help the person to deal with difficult feelings and thoughts? Does it make others understand how struggling they are?

The answers to these questions say something about what the person needs. But they need to get it in other ways.

Help find long-term solutions

Injury to oneself often solves a problem for the moment, but almost always means that the problems become bigger in the long run. Injury to oneself usually prevents one from finding other ways of dealing with emotions and solving problems.

It may be that the person does not know what controls himself. You may need to think together:

  • Is there any particular stress right now?
  • Has anything special happened?
  • What do relationships with friends and family look like?
  • Do they feel alone or exposed in some way? For example, it may be about high-performance requirements, conflicts, bullying or eating disorders.

Anyone who injures himself needs to train to endure hard feelings. They may also need to find other ways to deal with difficult thoughts, feelings, and relationships.

One tip is to write a list of things to do instead of hurting themselves when they get thoughts of doing so.

You may need to support yourself

It can be scary to be close to someone who is hurting and hurting themselves. It can awaken many emotions in yourself. It is natural to feel inadequate or powerless. The fact that you care about you means a lot. You do as best you can. It can be difficult to be supportive of someone else if you yourself are very worried, scared or sad. Therefore, it is good to help yourself.

Talk to someone if you are unsure of what to do. You should also always talk to someone if the person who is hurting himself does not want to talk about it at all. It can help you see more possible solutions to the problem. 

Talk to someone

You can start by talking to someone you know, like a friend or relative. You can talk to student health or other school staff about who is hurting going to school. If they are studying you can contact student health.

You can also contact a youth clinic, a health center, someone who works with parental support in the social services or child and adolescent psychiatry, bup. In some places, there are support groups or training courses for people who are relatives of someone who injures himself.

Seek support from others 

There are also several places you can contact by phone or email for support and advice:

  • Breeze adult phone
  • Save Children’s Parent Phone and Parent Email
  • The association SHEDO
  • The Association Minds parent phone 
  • The helpline.  

Your own feelings can be changed

You can begin to feel irritated and frustrated over time. You can also feel sad even. Maybe it feels like you can’t take care anymore. So it can be if you have been overwhelmed by difficult and painful feelings for a long time.

In the end, you turn off those feelings of being able to cope with the rest of your life, like school, work, friends and other things you have to do. Feeling angry and wanting to shut down can be an attempt to get away from your grief, fear, and anxiety. It does not mean that you have stopped caring. 

Take breaks from worry and do things together

When someone injures himself, people around him can be affected in different ways. It is difficult for us humans to be in an ongoing crisis. There is not always a simple answer to what is right. Try not to let self-harm control you too much, for example in the family. 

One important thing is to take breaks from worry. Do nice things together, with family or friends. What do you usually like to do together? What did you usually appreciate earlier? Try to find ways that allow everyone to relax and have a good time together, even if the person has not stopped hurting themselves. 

Take care of yourself

Don’t forget yourself. Also, focus on things that make you feel good and doing things you like. Meet people you like to hang out with. Try to make sure you eat and sleep well and to move, for example, by exercising. You need it to be able to be good support and to reduce your own vulnerability.

Signs that someone is hurting themselves

Many who hurt themselves do everything to hide it. Others want it to appear, as a way to show that they need help. It is common to be ashamed of what you do. Therefore, it can be difficult to detect that someone is hurting himself.

There are some signs you may be aware of:

  • The person may have wounds from having been cut, groomed or burned. Maybe they hide their arms or legs with long-sleeved and covering clothes.
  • There may be bloodstains on the sheets or clothes. You may also find razors or other sharp objects in places where they are not, for example, in the bedroom.
  • You may also notice that the person is depressed for a long time, becomes more annoyed or aggressive, gets a more uneven mood than before, or often seems anxious and anxious.
  • The person is destructive to himself in some other way, for example by exposing himself to dangerous situations. There are many ways to hurt yourself and there are not always physical signs.

Does not always mean that the person is hurt

Of course, noticing that you do not necessarily mean that the person is hurt. People of all ages hurt themselves, but this is most common among young people. Younger children can also hurt themselves in different ways, but it is more unusual.

Most people who hurt themselves do it once in a while and some do it several times. Only for a few does it become a behavior that is difficult to get rid of. Most people stop when they get older.

Ask and show that you want to know

You can always ask cautiously if you suspect someone is hurting yourself in some way. Do not try to force an answer if the person does not want to talk about it. Keep paying attention to how they feel.

Seek care

The earlier the injured person gets help, the better chance they have of feeling better. Therefore, do not wait to talk to the person about seeking help if you understand that it is needed. 

You who are related to a child or young person under 18 who injure themselves: Seek help, no matter how much or how long the person has been hurt. It is always good to get an initial assessment of the situation and what help is needed.

Pay attention to how the person is feeling

It is also good to get an assessment of the child or young person who is depressed for a long time, gets irritated or aggressive, gets a more uneven mood than before or often seems worried or anxious.  

Other things that you can pay attention to are if it starts to work poorly in school, at home or at leisure, if they sleep poorly or if they see no sense with things that used to be fun.

Also seek help if the young person in addition to the self-harm behavior has other problems, such as eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, sex in a destructive way, situations of violence, or if they have thoughts of taking their life or attempting suicide.

Your support can be important

A person who injures himself may need to gather the strength and courage to seek help. It can also feel difficult to receive help. That you as a relative are there and provide support can mean a lot.

You may need to seek help several times before you find something that works. If you have previously received help, but do not think it was right, try again.

Seek care for people under 18

Contact child and adolescent psychiatry, Bup, a youth clinic, student health or a health center. The person you meet can refer you to more specialized care if you agree that it is needed. There are also private receptions that receive people with self-harm behavior.

A teenager can also make contact with a pup or a youth reception, or student health if they go to school. You may need to seek help in different places, and seek again, if you feel that you are not getting the help you need.

Persons under the age of 18 should also be allowed to decide on their own treatment. Assessment and treatment are usually better if parents or close relatives are involved in the care.

Seek care for people over the age of 18

A person who is 18 years or older needs to seek care for themselves. As a relative, you can, of course, offer to make the first contact, make an appointment or follow along. 

They can contact a health care center, psychiatric clinic or emergency room. The person can also contact a youth reception if they are up to 20-25 years, the age limit varies between different receptions.

If they are studying and the problems have to do with the studies or the college, they can contact the student health. In some locations, there are psychiatric clinics for young adults up to the age of 25. As a relative, you may be involved in the care of someone over 18 if the person wants it.

Help your loved one with tips

You can always support the person who injures himself by, for example, finding out what help is there where they live. This applies to both care and non-profit associations. Tell me about what you find. Ask if they want you to help in some other way. 

Assessment and treatment

The person who injures himself can get different types of help. What help they get depends on how much and how long they have hurt themselves, and what it is because they hurt themselves. They can be treated for other problems at once if needed. 

If you are seeking care at Bup or at a psychiatric clinic, an initial assessment is sometimes made on the telephone. Sometimes the assessment is made at the first visit. Then you will know if the reception will continue with further investigation and treatment. 

In the article To injure yourself, you can read more about what help the person can get. 

The help that feels good works best

It is important that the person receiving help feels confident in the practitioner they meet in order for the help to work. Ask to meet someone else if it doesn’t feel good.

It is a right to get information that you understand 

Anyone who gets help can ask the therapist if there is something they do not understand. Ask to have the information written down or translated to read it in peace.

Here you can read more about the rights of children and guardians in health care.

Being close to someone who does not want help

It means a lot that you as a relative or parent are there for the person who is hurting himself. That you show that you care and offer to help is important for them to feel better. But if the person himself does not want to receive treatment, you probably cannot get them to do it. This also applies to persons under the age of 18.

It can be a very difficult and difficult situation for you. Try to respect the person’s wishes. What you can do is keep talking about how they are doing. Bring up the question of help again and again, in a demanding way. 

Sometimes forced care is needed 

A main rule of health care is that no one should be cared for against his will or treated without having agreed to it himself. This also applies to persons under the age of 18. At the same time, there are laws that say that a person can be forced to care in certain situations.

For example, it may be relevant if someone who seriously injures himself or herself does not want to be treated. 

The social services can decide on the care of young people

The social services can take care of a person under the age of 18 under the Act on the Care of Young People, LVU. It may be relevant, for example, if the person who injures himself also risks his health seriously in some other way, for example with drugs or other self-destructive behavior.

Then care is given outside the home, for example in a so-called home for care and housing, HVB-homes. Interventions under LVU are not voluntary.

Obsolete care if someone risks being seriously injured and refuses to receive treatment

Persons may also be forced into care under a law called care under the Psychiatric Compulsory Care Act, LPT. It applies, for example, if someone risks seriously injuring themselves or others due to mental illness, and refuses to receive care and treatment.

It may be someone who says they have serious plans to take their lives and refuses to receive care. If there is violence, a police officer can help so that the mentally ill person comes to a psychiatric clinic. A doctor will decide if LPT should be used. This Act applies to both children and young people and persons over 18 years of age.

Suggested Reading

  • To live a life, not win a war by Anna Kåver. Nature & Culture 2005
  • To survive – about self-harm behavior, Sofia Åkerman
  • Sometimes there are no simple answers, Ego Nova, 2013. The
    book can be ordered or downloaded as an e-book here.
  • When life hurts: about self-harming behavior among young people by Per Straarup Söndergaard
  • Smart thoughts about strong emotions – a self-reinforcing tool for children, Solfrid Raknes

Self-harm behavior project

Ego Nova

EgoNova is a three-year information project on self-harm behavior and the double problem self-harm behavior/eating disorder problem and is implemented by the Association SHEDO. The purpose is to increase knowledge in the area and to work against prejudice and stigma. The project also wants to highlight stories that show that it is possible to get well. Read more on Ego Nova’s website.

National self-harm project

In order to develop and coordinate knowledge about young people at risk of or who already have serious self-harm behavior, all county councils collaborate in the National Self-harm Project. The goal is for the project to contribute to better early care and better care.

Ehtisham Nadeem

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