What not to say to someone who self harms

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Here is my list of things to not say to someone who has just self harmed and/or has found themselves in hospitial.
1. Why would you do that to yourself, there are people out there who have it worse than you.
This is one of my biggest pet hates around depression and mental illness.  People are always quick to remark that there is always someone out there who has it worse.  Do they not think that we are aware of that…sometimes there is nothing we can do, its all about a chemical imbalance.  Everyone has different levels of being able to cope. What may seem small to you, could be insurmountable to another person.  Don’t judge them, they have enough guilt as it is.
2. You did this to yourself, so you don’t deserve to be treated with respect.
This is more aimed at medical professionals and I use the term ‘professionals’ loosely.  There has been many times when I have be stitched or stapled without anesthetic. Or they have done it so soon after administering it, that it doesn’t have a chance to work before they start stitching.  Contrary to small minded belief, self harmers do actually feel pain.  A small minded Dr refusing to use anesthetic is not the same as an act of self harm.
3. People who self harm are people to be feared.
The key word in the term is SELF harm. We don’t set out to directly harm others, we may indirectly hurt loved ones emotionally, but very rarely does an act of SELF harm involve another person.  I was removed from UNI housing as the UNI was afraid for the safety of other students.  Another example of how far small minded stigma spreads.
4. Why are you in the ‘looney bin’ it’s full of ‘crazy’ people.
To put things a bit simply…in order to want to harm yourself to ‘feel better’ you have to kind of be a little bit crazy. Also, the other people in hospital are no different from your friend, they are lost like them. Their medication might have stopped working, or they fell into old habits and they found themselves at rock bottom again.  Hospital is a place to gather yourself, you won’t be instantly better, but it helps to get yourself back on your own two feet.
5. I won’t visit them or call them because they might want to be alone.
Don’t make this assumption.  Hospital is a lonely place, the days seem to tick by so slowly.  There isn’t much to do other than to be lost in your own thoughts.  At least not in the public wards I have been in.  Make a phone call. Sometimes even a 5 minute conversation can make someone feel like there is people out there who care about them.  Why is it that when someone is in hospital for a medical issue, people have no issue in going for a visit but as soon as someone is in the ‘looney bin’ then they are something that is to be feared.  Step outside your comfort zone and make someone feel a bit special.
What can you do to make your friend feel better?
The truth is there might not be much, but just being there, judge free can be enough.  Lending a listening ear and letting them know that they aren’t alone.

10 thoughts on “What not to say to someone who self harms

  1. EssentiallyJess

    It’s amazing how flippant and thoughtless we can be with our words isnt it?
    My views on mental health have changed immeasurably since having depression and I realise now how well meaning can often not be well at all.
    Thanks for sharing Tegan

  2. Yvette @ Little Bento Blog

    A good post, for those who know someone, for those who have been there and for those who don’t know anyone who does it.
    Thanks for sharing!


  3. Eleise Hale

    I think sometimes people just feel like they don’t know what to say and might even regret it later. I know I have said stuff and later thought “what the” Thanks for your tips. From TUST

  4. Janet Camilleri

    Wow I can see a whole series of posts like this. I could do “What not to say to the bereaved” and I know a few people who could write “What not to say to the childless/infertile” …


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