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6 Tips for Supporting a Friend Who Struggles With Self-Harm and Intrusive Thoughts

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Article updated August 19, 2019.

Having a mental illness can be extremely hard to deal with sometimes. It can affect you on an ongoing basis and sometimes never goes away. My mental illness is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). My OCD can be very hard to manage sometimes and has gotten extremely bad this year.

I do not fit the stereotype of someone who has OCD. I’m not neat, tidy or overly clean. OCD affects me mainly by causing me to obsess over things I am anxious about. This can be over a variety of things. Unfortunately, as of late, I’ve been obsessing over cutting myself. I started self-harming three years ago. It started as a way I would deal with stress, but now I cut myself simply because I think obsessively about self-harm. I recently went to a psychiatric hospital to get help for it, but ended up relapsing after I went back to college.

Although my life can be dark at times, there has been a lot of happiness in my life. Luckily, I have a lot of amazing friends in my life who have helped me while I’ve been feeling down. I don’t think everybody realizes the impact an act of kindness can have on someone who self-harms or has a mental illness. For me, acts of kindness can snap me out of my negative thinking for a moment. It can bring a smile to my face knowing people care about me so much. It can make me have a good day or an even better day than I was originally having.

Here are some things you can do to support a friend or loved one who self-harms or has a mental illness:

1. Text them.

Just a simple text saying: “Stay strong. Love ya!” can mean a lot. It can give them hope and make their day brighter.

2. Ask them if they want to talk about it.

I like to confide in some of my friends after I self-harm or when I am thinking about doing it. Just knowing I have support and can talk about my problems means a lot to me.

3. Reassure them they aren’t a burden.

For people with anxiety or any other mental health problem, they may think they are a burden. I used to fear I was a burden by talking about my problems. After my friend reassured me I wasn’t, I felt a lot better.

4. Visit them or ask them if they want to hang out.

It means a lot to me when I get invited to hang out with my friends. When I was in the psychiatric hospital over Christmas, one of my best friends and her mom came to visit me and it made my day. There are also times when I get bad anxiety when I’m alone because I’ll obsess over self-harm more and be afraid to end up cutting. When I hang out with friends, I don’t think about self-harm as much because I’m distracted.

5. Encourage them to get help by talking to a professional.

It’s important you encourage the person who self-harms or has a mental illness to talk to a psychiatrist and/or a counselor. A psychiatrist may be able to help them a lot by giving them medicine if they have a mental illness. A counselor can help by talking with the person through his or her problems and suggest coping strategies.

6. Know it’s not your job to fix them and make sure to take care of yourself.

Ultimately, no one can stop the person from self-harming besides the person doing it. Therefore, you should not feel like it’s your job to fix them or make them stop. All you can do is support them. It’s also important to take care of yourself so you are in good health.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via 5Second

Originally published: February 15, 2017
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