Opening up to someone about self-harm is a brave choice. It’s easy to feel alone or like no one else can understand what you’re dealing with. It can be scary to admit something that you may have kept secret for a while. Starting the conversation can be hard, but many people feel more supported after talking to someone about what they’re going through.
Find someone you can trust.
The person you choose to tell about self-harm plays an important role in your experience. Think about your reason for telling someone. If you are hoping to feel less alone, you may want to tell a close friend or peer. If you’re looking for help, a family member or other trusted adult (like a coach, teacher, or school guidance counselor) can help you figure out where to start. You can also confide in your doctor, therapist, or another healthcare professional.
Decide on the right time and place.
It’s also important to have this conversation in a safe space. Talking about self-harm is likely to bring up a lot of emotions, for both you and the other person. Find a private location—it may help to be somewhere that is comfortable and familiar to you. Timing matters, too. You should both be in a calm mood. You can also set a time in advance by letting them know you’d like to talk about something serious soon and asking when a good time would be.
That said, there will never be a “perfect” time or place. Don’t put off having this conversation forever simply out of fear of ruining a moment.
Do I have to do it in person?
No! This is your journey. You get to decide when and how you tell others. Many people feel more comfortable writing it down. You could write a letter or do it over text. If you’re okay with speaking but think looking at someone will be too difficult, give them a call.
Keep in mind that they may have a more concerned reaction if they can’t physically see you—their imagination may run wild about whether you are about to harm yourself in the moment. It may help to let them know upfront that you are safe (as long as that is true).
If you send a written message, waiting for their response can be nerve-wracking. Remember that there are lots of reasons someone might take a while to reply—it doesn’t mean they don’t care! It may help to first confirm that they have time to respond quickly. Instead of sending a long string of texts without a heads up, start by sending something like: “Hey, are you free for a bit? I want to talk to you about something important.”
What do I say?
The first sentence of a serious conversation is usually the toughest to get out. Even if you are going to talk in person, writing your thoughts down first can help you figure out what you want to say. You can tell them as much or as little as you want. Be honest about how you’re feeling and how they can support you.
People often want to problem-solve, so don’t be surprised if they try to jump into action quickly. For a lot of people, self-harm can be really scary. Their first reaction may be to tell you that you need to stop right away. They may assume that because you are harming yourself, you must also be suicidal. Let them know whether you are ready for their help or if you just need someone to listen for now. They may have questions—remember, what you share is up to you. They are likely asking to better understand, but you don’t have to answer anything that you aren’t comfortable with.
Asking for help can be scary, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It shows your strength and commitment to feeling better, even though it may feel impossible right now. Things can get better—and letting someone know what you are going through is often the first step in getting there.