Confronting Mental Health

Trigger Warning: This article discusses self-harm and mentions suicide.

I clearly remember the day when we were out on the football pitch, just chatting and playing around as we usually did. I glanced at my friend, my eyes briefly getting caught on a red mark on their arm. Confused, I asked what it was. They quickly pulled down their hoodie sleeves, telling me that it was nothing. But it wasn’t nothing. 

I had not known anyone personally who self-harmed until that moment. The newness of the situation left me wondering what one should do if they discover that their friend hurts themself. Looking back on it now, I feel stupid for not questioning why they wore hoodies all the time, even on the hottest summer days. Because it makes sense. Wearing hoodies was how they concealed their scars and if I would have questioned it sooner, perhaps I could have found out about the self-harming sooner as well. I sometimes find myself dwelling on these what-ifs, but ultimately, I’m just happy that I was able to help my friend in some way eventually.

The day we found out about the scars, we talked to them about it and tried to understand why it was happening. Mental health and family conflicts aren’t easy subjects, but we made sure to listen and support our friend, letting them know that they could talk to us anytime. After that, I tried to not bring it up too much unless they started the discussion, but asking ‘how are you?’ each day started gaining a double meaning. We celebrated the small victories, those few weeks free of self-harm at times which are accomplishments no matter how small they seem. I didn’t know how I could help so I just remained available for moral support but I got even more worried when they mentioned that they occasionally had suicidal thoughts.

I felt helpless. I left like I wasn’t doing enough. To this day, I still feel like I could have done more but the rational side of me reminds me that I did what I could at the age of thirteen.

I told my mom. I consult my mom a lot about anything and everything, and it only felt right to inform her of this, as well, as I was worried about my friend and didn’t know what else I could do. Sharing with an adult probably also helped me process the situation. Knowing that your friend self-harms is a scary thing so consulting my mom made it feel just a bit less overwhelming than carrying it alone.

My mom then eventually asked me to ask my friend if she could talk to them about the self-harming and come to a decision of the next steps together. It seems like quite a straightforward thing to do, as I would be helping my friend who wasn’t in a good place and was a potential danger to themself. In reality, I felt a lot more conflicted. My friend had not known that I told my mom about what was happening and I was worried that they would feel betrayed that I told anyone. I feared losing their trust. I did end up confessing that I told my mom. It was clearly the right choice, one I should have made more easily. What was more important? That my friend fully trusts me to tell me everything or that my friend gets the help they need? The correct answer stared me right in the face and so I was able to get my friend to hesitantly agree to talk to my mom the next time they came over to my house. They were mad at first that I told someone without asking them if I could, but luckily I could still convince them to have the discussion.

So when they came over to my house, we watched movies, we played games, and before they left, my mom came up to the room to talk. The three of us sat on the ground and just talked for an hour. I think we all cried a bit throughout that hour. At the end of it, my mom asked my friend if she could meet up with their mom for coffee sometime, and tell her about the situation if my friend didn’t feel comfortable telling her themself. They did agree to it so my mom and their mom met up, meaning that she was aware of everything as well.

My past worry of my friend losing trust in me did actually come true to a degree. They don’t live here anymore and after they moved, we still texted occasionally but they wouldn’t talk to me about their mental health or self-harm anymore. While I would have been happier if they still felt that they could tell me anything, I do not regret telling my mom, without permission, at all. We barely talk anymore, we just send the yearly ‘happy birthday’ text, but I am glad that I was able to support them through a really tough time.

I wanted to share my experience because I think that it may be beneficial to hear for someone who also has a friend who they know hurts themself. All I can say is that it is truly not easy, and feeling helpless is normal. Carrying that knowledge can feel very heavy (I have definitely cried in my room multiple times over it, from the mere fact that my friend was hurting and I didn’t know how to help them). My advice is just to be there for your friend and if possible, do notify an adult if your friend’s safety is at risk. 

If you are someone who is in a dark mental state right now, I just want to say that I am very sorry that you are going through that and that you matter. Asking for help is difficult, but I hope that you can do so sometime and confide in someone you are close to because every battle is easier with the support of loved ones. Things will get better.