Thursday 24 October 2019

What to do when you notice someone’s self harm scars

Kristina shares her advice on what to do if you notice a stranger's self-harm scars.
- Kristina W. 

Seriously. Don’t do anything. 

It’s hard to relate to why a person would injure themselves if you have never been in that position and the urge to ask them about it must be both strong and well-intentioned. 

However, to the people who notice self-harm scars on others (old, already healed scars - not fresh wounds) and feel the urge to say something, it’s a good idea to not bring them up. Chances are, they might not want to talk about them, especially if you are strangers. If you’re new at university and surrounded by strangers, your mental health struggles are not the best ice breaker. I know that I didn’t want to discuss them. Certainly not until we were better acquainted.

If someone close to you is self-harming and you want to help them, do take the steps to do so. There are several resources available for tackling self-harm. However, expressing concern to a stranger about their self-harm is another matter entirely.

Here’s why:
  1. The reasons for self-harm are painful and the person bearing the scars may not necessarily want to rehash them with a curious bystander.
  2. If their scars are visible, there is a chance that they overcame the enormous urge to cover them up. Or, it might be warm outside and they are dressing for the weather the same as everyone else. Whatever the reason, their scars are not an invitation to ask what happened.
  3. It’s kind of rude. Especially in the case of someone you don’t particularly know, it’s incredibly invasive to ask about self-harm scars. It’s basically asking someone to reveal their mental health struggles to you when you barely know them. Would you be up for that?
  4. You probably won't be satisfied with whatever answer they give you to why they did it. Since it’s a pretty grim kind of question to get, the answers you can look forward to can range from dismissive to passive-aggressive. Trust me when I say a lot of people with scars just don’t want to get into it. 
It differs from person to person but many people with scars don’t want them to be ‘a thing’. If you don’t know them, don’t make it a thing. 

If you’re concerned about the wellbeing of a friend or stranger and feel there are at risk of harm, they is a sensitive way of going about this. Gently enquire how they are, without directly asking about their scars and if they choose to disclose to you, you can offer them emotional support and signpost them to professional support.

If you or someone you know has been affecting by similar difficulties, you can find information and support here. Some information on supporting a friend can be found here.

Kristina W. spent a year as an international student at the University of Glasgow. Her experience changed the way she looked at her mental health for the better. She blogs about her student experience, money and career at

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