How to approach people with self-harm scars

by Julie Stensland

We’ve all seen the ‘now that summer approach’ photo on social media. It circles around every spring time as a reminder of how to behave now that people are beginning to wear lighter clothing. The general rule is, if it’s not something the person can fix within minutes, don’t point it out. If someone has an eyelash on their cheek, some kale in their teeth, or their skirt up their bum (it happens sometimes), please, tell them. That’s just human decency. Stretch marks, love handles, bones, scars or birthmarks are a no-go topic of conversation. Every summer is a constant reminder of how cruel I have been to myself, and I don’t need you to point it out.

About 10% of young people self-harm in Britain, this means it’s likely that at least two young people in every secondary school classroom have self-harmed at some time.[1]

There are many reasons why people self-harm, it could be because of social problems, traumas or psychological causes. It’s used as a way to cope with overwhelming emotional issues, which is why it’s also a very sensitive theme. I am one of those who self-harm, one of those who cover up when I go to family gathering, put make-up on my old scars so they’re less visible, or don’t come at all. It’s a constant worry I have, that people will question me as a person, how well I can handle life, because obviously it’s not how you do it. I’ve had my (un)fair share of struggles, and my scars will always be proof of shit I’ve gone through. Which is why I would kindly ask you to not mention them, I know better than anyone that they’re there.

A few months ago, Rebecca (my friend and creator of The Fresh Feminist) and I went to a pub to watch a Manchester United game. It always makes me uncomfortable to be a young girl, at a pub only wanting to watch football, but that’s a different story. Anyway, the game had started, we were drinking our beers and had a pleasant time. My arm was bare, revealing all my scars from the past to all the strangers around. A silent invitation for them to speak to me, which is exactly what this lovely elderly man did. At half-time, he came over. He’d had too many beers, he leaned close to me, touching my shoulder, making sure we heard him properly in the loud atmosphere. He pointed at my scars and said: “you’re too beautiful to do that.” He made a poor attempt of a joke about how Rebecca was the only one allowed to cut sandwiches from now on. He told me I shouldn’t be in the kitchen, we both laughed awkwardly. It was unsettling, and out of line.

Now, I know (hope) he meant it in the best way possible. He was just being nice, you know, showing that he cared. Don’t worry if you think it was sweet, my mum did too when I told her. But to me, it wasn’t sweet. I felt ashamed and belittled to my mental illness. The scars weren’t new, so why point it out? I don’t speak for everyone with self-harm scars, but as for myself, just do not mention it if you don’t know me. You can ask, of course, but don’t assume and don’t come out of nowhere telling me I shouldn’t do it. I don’t need your opinion nor your concern. That’s what I have my therapists for.

If you struggle with self-harm, or know anyone who do, please do not hesitate to make contact. There are organisations that offer support and advice for people who self-harm, as well as their friends and families.

These include:

  • Samaritans – call 116 123 (open 24 hours a day), email, or visit your local Samaritans branch
  • Mind – call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 (9am to 6pm on weekdays)
  • Harmless – email
  • National Self Harm Network forums
  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline – call 0808 802 5544 (9.30am to 4pm on weekdays)



Julie Stensland is a friend of the zine. As a Norwegian poet, she studied Creative Writing at The University of Winchester. She writes un-apologetically about mental health, feminism and social change.

I: @juliolsen T: @JulieStensland



[…] Its kind of a scary thing to say that I’ve has suicidal thoughts. More people can relate to other symptoms of depression like feeling sad, being tired all the time or not wanting to get out of bed. These are taboo but not as stigmatised as suicidal thoughts. Thinking about not existing anymore is not as relatable. It’s not as easy for people who haven’t had a mental illness to understand. (This can also be said for self-harm. You can read more about it HERE). […]

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