Self-harm is a very serious topic, and one that is close to my heart. I have a very close friend that has harmed himself before. It is a past struggle, but one that he has to fight every day so that it does not creep back into the present. I asked him about his self-harm because I wanted this piece to be as helpful as possible. There is a high chance that we all know someone that has self-harmed before. People who do self-harm are very good at hiding it. One of my friends has given me permission to use his experiences, because he has been trying to find a way to speak out about his own struggle, and help others get through theirs.
Here are a few ways to tell if your friend is self-harming and how to help them help themselves.
When I asked my friend about what kind of signs people should look for, he said that you should look at their clothing. If a potential self-harmer starts wearing long sleeves, especially if it’s hot outside, or if they start wearing more layers, that might be a red flag. They may try to justify it, but very little can justify long sleeves in July.
The next big sign is a change in behavior; if they stop participating in activities that they enjoy, you might have reason to be concerned. However, this is also a sign of depression. Depression and self-harm do not always correlate. Many people with depression do not self-harm, and not everyone who self-harms has depression.
People who self-harm that have scars will try to make excuses. My friend advises to be wary of things like, “I fell,” “I was playing outside and got scraped up,” or, “It was the curling iron.” While things could be true, they are also not usually repetitive occurrences.
Now that you know some of the signs, you’re probably wondering what to do, once you identify signs of self-harm. First, talk to them. Do not approach them in an angry or accusatory way. Do not be judgmental. This is your friend. You love them. You are worried. Do not come at them aggressively. Show your friend that you are concerned and you only want the best for them. Once you have some sort of confirmation that they are self-harming, you need to get them help. Every university has some kind of medical or psychological service that you can go to for help. At Mercer, it’s CAPS. Do not be afraid to ask authority figures, like your Resident Assistant, for help as well. These people are trained to handle these kinds of situations. Your friend might ask you to promise not to tell, but you cannot do that, because you will be lying to them. In the end, it is better for your friend to be mad at you and you get them the help that they need, rather than having them happy with you but hurting themselves.
Through all of this, you will be their primary confidant. So make sure you are prepared to be there for them. Have them call you when they feel like harming themselves.
As I said before, this is a subject that is close to my heart. As it should be for everyone. If you or someone you know is self-harming, know that you are not alone. You can call CAPS at (478)301-2862, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.