Working out what’s happening with the young person and self-injury

It is normal to feel uncomfortable about raising the issue of self-injury with a young person.  It can be quite confronting for some people.  Be aware of what this may mean for you and how it makes you feel.  Know though that it could mean different things to young people also. 

Look at the individual, not the harm.  Look at the person beyond the scars

The young person should feel as though they are as a natural part of their story.  Young people are more likely to be discouraged from disclosing and discussing their self-injury when you appear anxious about asking or don’t ask when it is obvious. 

Talking about self-injury:

  • Talk directly about it.  There’s no point beating around the bush and asking them will not give an idea that they haven’t already thought about.  Think about it as giving them permission to speak about their distress and show you’re not afraid to talk about it. 
  • Allow enough time and be patient.  It is often a secretive and very personal behaviour so sharing this with someone may be overwhelming – they may need time to settle before talking more.
  • Have the conversation in a place where they feel comfortable and private
  • Hear what they have to say, be curious
  • Validating their experiences and feelings can help reduce any shame or guilt they may be feeling as well as keep an invitation open for them to take about their self-injuring behaviour

Remember to consider suicidal thoughts, whilst self-injury is not usually a suicidal behaviour, the same problems that cause the emotional distress could lead to someone considering suicide.  If the young person every mentions suicide, take it seriously.  For more information around suicide.

Further Resources