January 28, 2011 - submitted by Maddy, United States of America

"My friend and I have been worried about one of my other friends for quite a while now. We're afraid she cuts herself since we constantly see scars on her wrists and thighs and she's incredibly hard on herself. I've confronted her about it, but she denied it, yet I do not believe her. I know she said she doesn't, but I'm still concerned since she might just be saying that so I don't worry about her. What should I do? Maddy"

The Oracle replies:

Another difficult situation Maddy as you're right to obviously worry about your friend and want to do the best you can for her. Self-harm is a very private thing whether it's a coping mechanism or a punishment and you will need to tread very gently. Don't see it as a suicide bid by the way as it's completely different. Maybe it's not just about worrying you that prevents her from telling you, she may have feelings of guilt and shame. There are organisations that you may find useful to show ways to support and help your friend and if/when she felt ready she could also approach them. Try talking to her again patiently but be mindful to show that you are there whenever she needs you which may not be right now. Listen to her, encourage her to talk to someone and try to understand whatever she tells you. She may feel judged which means she's not likely to open up further so ask her what she'd like you to do. She may still deny it and then unfortunately there is nothing you can do except continue to be her friend and do fun things together. Over to you...

I had a friend in high school like her. And maybe what I did can help you too. Just maybe. :) I think you can't force her to spill it out, if you really think she does it to herself. You could have heart-to-heart talks with her instead. Start slowly. If she starts sharing, then maybe those little problems are the ones that cause or trigger a bigger problem that she's dealing with. As her friends, you guys should make her feel real accepted and that you won't judge her. We're not sure yet what the problem is, she might be sort of ashamed of it that's why she won't spill. But, be the ones to listen. If you've fully understood the situation and somehow understood her as well, then can you advise her something reasonable. Oh! And these things take time. You can't force it to move fast forward. Be there for her. Don't give her a reason to continue what she does, as her friends. :) Show your love for her the best way you can. :)- Patty, SJ.

I know where you're coming from. The same thing is happening to me too. My friend, it's been going on for a while and I thought it had stopped. But recently, I discovered that it's only been getting worse. It's bloody awful to watch someone go through with this, but you can't do anything to stop it. If you're really worried about her then talk to a helpline or a counsellor or someone like that, and see what they think.
You can always do your best to help though. Talk to her about it, not in a confrontation, but as a friend. Work out why she's doing it. You can't make her stop, and don't beat yourself up about that. Been there, done that. You can help. Once you know what's happening, try and get her to do something else instead. Something she can do instead of that, something less destructive. Art, reading, sport, anything, but something that takes her mind off the self harm. Something that makes her feel good about herself, something that she's proud of. And, spend time with her, people get lonely. Merinda, Australia. (14 years old).

Maddy, I went through a very similar situation a few years ago. My best friend had an eating disorder. It was very difficult to deal with and she was completely in denial about it. It started to get worse and worse. I consulted with my other trusted friends and we all agreed that we should tell someone. I told my teacher who also had my friend as a student. He noticed that there may be a problem as well. He contacted her father and the school psychiatrist. She was able to get some professional help. Do not hesitate to talk to someone. In addition, It is very important that you do not blame yourself for your friend's problem. She would tell me how mad she was that her teacher told her dad and I had to pretend that I wasn't the one responsible. She still doesn't know that I was behind it, but I feel that I saved her. Make sure that you are there to support her. Good luck. Susie, 19, United States.

This is indeed a very sensitive subject and something that I know friends who have struggled with it. It is difficult for you, because you want to confront them and try to intercede but at the same time you also want to respect their privacy and feelings. I think a first thought is to realize that although the cutting is bad, it is a symptom of some deeper issue. I think maybe one thing you could start with is trying to talk to her about different issues she might be dealing with in her life and if you could find the true heart of the issue. And another way you can help her is just being there for her whenever she needs you, which I am sure you are already doing but just continue. Sometimes people reach a certain place in life where they feel completely alone even though they are not. So just continue to reiterate how much you value her and what an amazing person she is. Many of these issues are not quickly fixed but slowly you will break these chains that hold her down. Just do not lose hope in her. Joseph.

I was actually in the exact same position you were once. I had a friend who I thought was cutting herself and I did ask her about it though she denied it. That was years ago and now she has admitted that she did cut herself. I made sure to keep an eye on her in case it spiraled out of control. My advice to you is don't ignore the situation and if she is so hard on herself encourage her so she can boost her self esteem. You can't force her to come out about self injury. If it is true that she self harms, be there for her and help her find professional help in a guidance counselor or group therapy. Also make sure she isn't thinking about suicide as well if she is that hard on herself. It will be rough if your claim is true and it's a long healing process. Just help your friend stay positive and hope for the best. Hannah, United States of America.

I understand your concern, I found myself in a very similar situation not too long ago, and I'd be more than happy to tell you how I handled the situation.
First I watched their movements, saw how they acted, carried on normal conversations, but still dug into the subject, very lightly however.
If you tell your friend you're concerned and she denies it, watch her expressions after the conversation, if you see any signs of stress, like pacing, or even going into depth, watch her eye movements, see if she's darting them around as if she's nervous, or if she's looking towards the floor at any way in the slightest.
These signs may be able to help show if you should be concerned about your friend, and if you are seeing these signs, confront her by calmly telling her the best thing you can tell her....The truth. Tell her that you've noticed her strange behavior and you are really worried, look her in the eyes, and ask her "What's wrong?" I wish you the best, and I hope your friend is okay. Bradley H.

I implore you to get this friend help immediately! I have no idea what resources you have at your disposal, but at least talk to a guidance counsellor as soon as you can. There may be nothing that anyone can do for your friend, but intervention is required. At the very least, you will have tried to help her before anything serious happens.
I am very worried for her, mostly because she is not admitting that there is anything wrong. Denial is a sure sign of trouble.
I hope that your friend gets that counselling, for her sake. You are truly a wonderful friend. Joanne.

Thank you all once again for your words of guidance. Do get involved.
Click to read this week's Team Oracle question, and to send us your answer.