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Suspect A Loved One is Engaging in Self-harm? Here's How to Reach Out.

By Niku Sedarat


Amid a youth mental health crisis, the prevalence of mental health challenges amongst youth and adolescents is rampantly rising. One mental health challenge that can be particularly emotionally and physically taxing is self-injury. Overall, there is a striking 16.9% prevalence of self-harm among adolescents.

Self-harm is the deliberate infliction of injury or damage to one's own body without suicidal intent. It can take various forms, including cutting, burning, scratching, or hitting oneself. Often, self-harm is a coping mechanism for dealing with emotional pain, stress, and trauma. It may even be indicative of underlying mental health challenges.

As supportive peers, mental health advocates, and loved ones, it is important that we look out for our community, recognizing the signs of mental health challenges and guiding our loved ones as they get on a path toward finding support. 

As we get more and more versed in the topic of mental health, including symptoms, causes, risk factors, and more, it is critical that we apply this knowledge to our lives, being vigilant of such signs in our loved ones. If you suspect a loved one is struggling with mental health or specifically, self-harm, it's imperative to take this intuition seriously and reach out. Doing so can be the instrumental step a loved one not only wants but needs, to get on a path of finding support and care. 

As a loved one, approaching such conversations may be overwhelming, but nevertheless, it's critical. As you go about approaching these conversations, ensure that you prioritize your mental health and step back or pass the torch along if your own emotional boundaries are being crossed. 

Follow these steps to guide yourself as you reach out to a friend: 

Recognizing the Signs:

Look out for physical signs such as unexplained cuts, bruises, burns, or scars, especially in hidden areas like the wrists or thighs. Pay attention to behavioral changes like withdrawal from social activities, wearing concealing clothing, or secretive behavior. Emotional signs may include increased anxiety, depression, or expressions of self-loathing.

Approaching the Conversation:

Choose a private and comfortable setting to express your concern. Approach the conversation with empathy and without judgment, using "I" statements to share your observations and feelings. Listen actively and validate your loved one's emotions. Offer reassurance, support, and respect their boundaries. Remember to provide information about available resources such as therapy or support groups.

Encouraging Professional Help:

Emphasize the importance of seeking professional support and offer to assist in finding resources such as therapists or treatment centers. Encourage ongoing communication and support for your loved one throughout their journey towards healing. Be aware of free, community resources, such as the following: 

  • suicide and crisis lifeline: 988

  • crisis text line: text HOME to 741741

  • CA youth crisis line: 1-800-843-5200

  • trever project (LGBTQ+) crisis line: 1-866-488-7386

Self-Care for Caregivers:

Recognize your own emotions and seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if needed. Set boundaries to protect your own well-being while supporting your loved one. Educate yourself about self-harm and mental health to better understand and support your loved one.

Suspecting that a loved one is engaging in self-harm can be difficult, but reaching out with empathy and support can make a world of difference. By approaching these conversations with sensitivity, listening actively, and encouraging help-seeking, you can play a crucial role in helping your loved one overcome self-harm and find hope for the future.


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