"One of my friends just confessed to me that she had been self-harming."

Question

One of my closes friends just confessed to me that she had been self harming herself for a while now and she has been having some problems with herself and her emotions which I would belive is depression. The problem is that she hasn't told anyone else, not her parents and no adults. And she has promised me she will stop self harming but I'm sure that won't help much so I need to know how to help her. I know I need to be there for her and I am she can talk to me and tell me anything no matter what the time and all but I'm scared this is going to get even more serious even faster and I need to know how to help her without spilling to her parents or anyone else which she has asked me not to do. Please I need some advice on how to help her and talk to her about this.

Answer from counsellor

Hearing that your friend is struggling with self-harm must be so scary for you. I can hear how concerned you are about them and everything they have shared with you. As their friend, it’s entirely understandable that you would be worried and want to support them in any way you could. You sound like a great friend. Your friend is lucky to have someone like you in their life. Given that your friend disclosed that they haven’t shared this with anyone else and they do not want you to tell anyone else, it’s no wonder you are feeling unsure what to do or how to support her. Let’s explore this some more… Firstly, I just wanted to acknowledge how mature it was to write in and reach out about your friend. I can hear how troubling this is to you and how conflicted you feel about the position you are in because it sounds like on one hand you want to support your friend any way you can by being sensitive to her wishes of not telling anyone…but on the other hand it sounds like you are worried that things may become worse for her or more serious quickly and then what do you do then. Hmmm….This can certainly be a tricky spot. When it comes to someone’s safety and wellbeing, if they are at risk or potentially could be at risk then they really do need some ongoing professional support and that may mean having to tell an adult even if they don’t want you too. This is especially true if they are at grave risk...or speak about thoughts or attempts of suicide. In this case the friend needs to come before the friendship…meaning their safety before the friendship and the promise made. It may also mean having to call 911 if they are not safe and need emergency assistance right away. I know this may not feel very comfortable to think about, but remember you are only one person…you can’t possibly be the only sole support for your friend, especially if she is dealing with a lot of stuff. You are not a counsellor and this can be just too much for one person to take on all by themselves. If you didn't feel comfortable going to her parents...who are some other trusted adults you could turn to? As her friend expressing your concerns for her, encouraging her to reach out to you whenever the temptation to self-harm comes over her and supporting her in learning about other alternatives to self-harm as well as talking to someone like a trusted adult, are all ways that you can help her. It’s important to remember though that as much as you may want to help, she too needs to want the help and put in the time and work to change things. That may means reaching out and getting some ongoing counselling support to learn alternative ways of coping with strong emotions she may be feeling or difficulties she is encountering in her life. For some more information on ways of helping a friend who is dealing with self-harm, here are a few websites to check out: kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/InfoBooth/Emotional-Health/Self-injury/Helping-a-Friend.aspx teenshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/good_friends/friend_cuts.html?tracking=T_RelatedArticle kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/InfoBooth/Emotional-Health/Self-injury/Links.aspx Seeing a friend going through a tough time can take its toll of you too, so remember to take care of yourself too during this time. As much as you may want to be there for your friend anytime they need you, remember you are not a professional counsellor who deals with stuff like this all the time….and you are human, there’s only so much you can take and do. Who are some supports you could lean on if you needed too? I am so glad that you reached out and shared this with us. I hope this response gives you some things to think about and some ideas to consider. The websites too have some great information that’s also worth checking out. If you ever want to talk about this some more, know that we are here for you and your friend 24/7 (you can even call together if you want) so feel free to reach out by phone (1-800-668-6868) or live chat! Take good care and all the best!