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Information for Family and Friends

Hello parents, caregivers, family and friends, and welcome to is a website dedicated to helping people recover from self-injury, eating disorders, and mental illness. We encourage people to support each other, share their stories and learn healthy coping mechanisms to manage the emotions and events that brought them here. We are NOT here to encourage self-injury, eating disorders, or suicide and we do everything we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our members. 

You are most likely here because you have found out that someone you care about is self-harming. If you’ve never engaged in such behaviours yourself, you’re likely to be a little confused and this page will hopefully provide you with some answers and advise you on how best to help your loved one. You can also e-mail , or post in our forums if you have additional questions that need to be answered. 

Below are some answers to commonly asked questions and misconceptions.

What is self-injury?
Self-injury or self-harm when a person deliberately inflicts physical pain upon themselves. Self-harm can take a great number of forms including cutting or burning the skin [and this could be anywhere on the body, not just arms!], hitting oneself, picking at the skin or hair, substance abuse and many other behaviours. Whilst under- or over- eating and purging [inducing vomiting] often occur as part of an eating disorder, these behaviours may well be used by an individual as a method of self-harm and not necessarily be a manifestation of an eating disorder.

It’s important to remember that the severity of the self-harm or method doesn't necessarily equal severity of emotional distress.

Why do people hurt themselves?
This is something that only your loved one will be able to answer. Everyone has different reasons for starting to self-harm, but a common factor tends to be coping with high levels of emotions. For example, when anxious, some people bite their nails, some scribble on a bit of paper and others reach for a book and a cup of tea. Some people might deal with stress by drinking alcohol or lashing out at people. They're all different in how healthy or 'good' they are for you, but they're all based on the same principle that the person is trying to cope with something. People who resort to self-injury tend to have not learnt such healthy coping mechanism, or the healthy coping mechanisms they know aren’t enough to ease their distress. Often, but certainly not always, people who self-injure have a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, and they find that hurting themselves helps them to cope with painful memories. 

How does self-injury 'work'? Why does it make people feel better? 
Self-injury, (like sex and exercise!) releases endorphins in to the body, which act as a mood-lifter or painkiller, which is why people often continue to hurt themselves and it can become an addiction. 

Is this my fault? How can I make them stop self-harming? 
No. It is not your fault that your loved one chooses self-injuring as a way to cope with their feelings. 

And sadly, you cannot simply ‘make them stop’. It’s important to realise that self-harm is a coping skill. A poor one, but poor coping skills are simply coping skills with overly negative consequences. We all need coping skills and using a bad one is often due to a lack of understanding/knowledge of good ones. Tempting as it may be to make your love one promise to never do it again, this is not going to deal with the reasons behind the self-injuring. Self-injury is addictive, and even if your friend tries their hardest to stop for your sake, they will most likely slip up at some point, and this adds guilt at letting you down to all the other emotional distress that is occurring. Ultimatums and threats are likely to lead to distrust and secrecy, rather than stopping the self-destructive behaviours.

How am I supposed to be feeling? 
There is no particular 'right' way to feel. You’re not going to feel just one emotion, and it’s going to take time to process. Parents and caregivers of self-injurers have told us that they felt frustrated, guilty, angry, sad, stressed, isolated, overwhelmed and afraid when they learned about their child’s self-harm. You may feel all of these, some of these or you may feel something entirely different. Whatever you do feel, it’s normal. It’s also normal and ok to feel like you don’t know what to do. 

No one expects you to know how to deal with this without help, and that is why we are here. Other parents and families have been where you are, and there is support out there. You are not alone, and you don’t have to go through this alone.

It’s only teenage girls who self-harm…

No. RYL has helped members in their 30s, 40s, and 50s recover from their self-injury, both male and female. Self-injury is not something that only teenage girls do, and not everyone will automatically stop as they get older. 

People don’t hurt themselves because of what friends they have, the music they listen too, the clothes they wear or because it’s “cool”. SI is a sign of serious emotional distress and needs to be taken seriously. Anyone who is hurting themselves should be evaluated by a professional. 

So they aren’t just doing it for attention? 
No. Self-injury indicates that there are some deep-rooted issues that a person is dealing with. Even if you don’t necessarily know what those issues are, your loved one feels that they have no other way to control how they are feeling. Most people who self-harm feel ashamed of their wounds and scars and will go to great lengths to hide them. 

In very few cases SI may be a cry for help, but SI is an extreme method of seeking attention, and if someone feels the need to resort to hurting themselves in order to get recognition or attention then it is likely that something very serious is going on in their life that needs to be addressed. 

My child is young, and doesn’t even know what real life is, what kind of problems could they have? 
The biggest thing to remember is that all problems are relative. What may seem like a life or death issue to your child may not seem that serious to you. Telling your child that their problems aren’t a big deal, or they don’t know what real problems are is only going to undermine their emotions and invalidate their feelings. This can end up exacerbating the situation and increasing their feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. 

As people grow older and gain more life experience they are able to put their feelings and experiences into a broader perspective. This is why something small to you may be critical to your child. Many people who SI feel hopeless, and like things will never get better. By being there for them, being open minded, and talking with your child you can help them learn that they are able to get through things, and help them put their emotions in perspective. 

It’s also possible that your loved one is dealing with problems that they haven’t felt they are able to speak with you about. Things such as abuse, bullying and mental illness often cause intense feelings of shame, embarrassment, which can prevent people from talking about what they are experiencing. We suggest keeping an open mind when exploring the reasons behind self-injurious behaviour when talking with your loved one. 

If someone is hurting themselves is it the same as attempted suicide? 
No, it's not. It's often actually an attempt to manage feelings and avoid suicide. Most people commit suicide when their coping mechanisms fail, and they feel that there is no longer any way they can deal with their feelings. Even though SI isn’t a healthy coping mechanism, it can actually prevent suicide by providing outlet for a person’s feelings before they build up to the critical point. 

If my loved one is hurting themselves does that mean they have a mental illness?
Not necessarily. Self-injuring is sometimes a symptom of a mental illness, whereas in other cases there will be no underlying psychiatric conditions. Either way however, it is important for anyone who self-injures to speak to a doctor or counsellor, who can evaluate whether there is an underlying mental health condition that needs to be assessed, and advise on ways of managing self-injury and learning new coping strategies.
You may also benefit from speaking with a counsellor for a few sessions. They can often answer many questions that you may have after discovering that someone you care about is harming themselves. 

What can I do to help? 
If you suspect that someone you care about is hurting themselves, try to talk to them about it. You know them better than this webpage does, so work out for yourself whether talking to them in person about it would be easier, or if your friend might find it easier to talk via email or Facebook message. Just let them know that you’re worried, and that you want to help. However there’s a few ways to definitely not approach them about it- don’t make a scene about it in front of lots of people, and don’t phrase it in an accusatory tone.
-If someone has confided in you that they have a problem with self-injury, let them know that you still love them and care about them, and want to help.
-Respect their privacy, and don’t demand they give you all their tools, or talk about things they don’t want to talk about.
-Don’t demand that they show you their wounds/scars. Some people may be happy to, but for others it is a very private thing. If you are the parent or carer of someone who self-harms, it may be helpful to make the young person aware that you will be non-judgemental, should they want to show you a wound that they are worried about. Also, it would not be encouraging the behaviour to make a well-stocked first- aid kit available; rather, it makes them aware that you care and means that they are able to take good care of their wounds to prevent infection.
-Don’t punish or issue ultimatums
-Ask your loved one what you can do to help
-Advise them of people that they can speak to for help, such as a counsellor or a GP. Offer to go with them, if they would like the moral support.
-Offer to help them create a list of distractions; things to do when they feel urges to harm themselves

Things our members have said that they would like their friends and carers to know about self-harm.
-People who self-harm are not all black-clad teenagers sitting in a darkened room cutting their wrists whilst listening to ‘emo’ music. Girls, boys, teenagers, young adults and people from all different religions, upbringings and backgrounds can self-harm. 
-People can self-harm for many many reasons, and do not necessarily do so for attention or as an attempt to end their lives. 
- Self harm does not define us. People who self-harm are still the same person you know and love.

Useful contacts and websites: ; 08457 90 90 90 (24 hours) [confidential advice and support for people in a crisis] [charity offering information and advice on a range of mental health problems.]

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