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Self-Harm Awareness Month

Self-harm or Self-Injury refers to the intentional infliction of injury or pain on oneself as a response to depression, trauma, anxiety, or intense feelings that a person does not know how to deal with in a healthy way. Self-harm is a serious and dangerous problem that has been growing amongst children, teens, and young adults for many years.

According to a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health (click here), the rate of teens and young adults who admit to engaging in self-harming behaviors has increased by over 18% every year since 2009. This same study shows that nearly 25% of teens and young adults have engaged in this type of behavior, 10% of teenage boys, and a shocking 30% of teenage girls.

These statistics are alarming and provide undeniable proof that this is a serious problem amongst our younger population. Today, we will discuss the different types of self-harming behaviors, the various causes of self-harm, signs and symptoms to look for, and treatments that can be helpful for your young loved ones to overcome these destructive urges.

Types of Self-harming Behaviors

When most people think about self-harm, they think about what they’ve seen in movies or television. However, cutting and burning the skin is not the only method of causing harm among those who exhibit these behaviors. In fact, self-injury occurs in a large variety of different ways. Some of those include the following:

  • Cutting or Burning skin (scratching, cutting, carving skin)

  • Puncturing or piercing the skin with sharp objects

  • Self-strangulation

  • Hitting or biting themselves

  • Pulling out hair

  • Poisoning self with tablets or liquids

  • Purposely engaging in risky behavior

  • Banging their head against the wall

  • Misusing drugs or alcohol

  • Deliberately starving themselves or binge eating

  • Excessively exercising

Keeping in mind that there are many different ways that someone can cause themselves harm will better equip you to recognize these behaviors in whatever iteration they occur.

Causes of Self-Harming Behaviors

The causes for self-harming behaviors are just as varied as the different types. But most commonly, people who engage in self-harm report that they struggle with feeling numb. They feel misunderstood, alone, and don’t know how to cope with these monumental feelings. Self-harming is a way to relieve some of the internal pain they are suffering from by causing physical pain. This relief is only temporary, which is why self-injury is often a chronic problem. Some of the common causes of self-harming behaviors include:

  • Signal depression to others

  • Cope with psychological pain

  • Manage emotions of loneliness, panic, anger, and/or confusion

  • Punish themselves for perceived faults

  • Process negative feelings

  • Distract from negative feelings

  • Express embarrassing emotions

  • To feel a sense of control

  • Express pain

  • To feel pleasure

  • To feel anything at all

Generally speaking, self-harm is not indicative of suicidal tendencies, but it is still a very serious problem that requires immediate action.

Signs of Self-Harm

Due to the many different types of self-harming behaviors, some signs are more evident than others. No matter what, it is crucial for parents and other loved ones to watch for certain indicators that the young people in your life are struggling and may need additional support. Some of those include:

  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, or burns (commonly found on wrists, arms, thighs, and chest)

  • Full coverage clothing (long sleeves and pants) even in hot weather

  • Pulling out hair

  • Self-loathing (expressing the desire to punish themselves)

  • Suicidal ideation (while not common in all self-harm it can still be a co-occurring problem)

  • Withdrawn (not wanting to engage with family or friends as they used to)

  • Changes in eating habits or secretive about eating

  • Unusual weight gain or loss

  • Low self-esteem

  • Depression

  • Behavioral and emotional instability (mood swings, acting out, etc.)

  • Expressing helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness

  • Extreme rubbing or irritation (constant scratching or picking at scabs or irritated skin)

  • Social issues with interpersonal relationships

  • Excessive accidental injuries

  • An affinity for playing with sharp objects or hot objects

  • Scars on the skin in patterns or shapes

  • Hair loss

  • Frequent illness

Treatment for Self-Injury

The first step to treating self-injuring behaviors is talking to your doctor. Depending on the severity of the problem, your doctor may recommend an in-patient rehab program, outpatient treatment, or medication to treat any underlying mental illness contributing to the behavior.

No matter what method you choose to go forward with, a considerable part of that treatment will include therapy. Since self-harming is a response to deep emotional and mental anguish, the way to overcome these urges includes identifying and removing those negative thought patterns and coping mechanisms that have been ingrained in the patient over time.

One of the most common therapeutic modalities used in treating self-harming behaviors is CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy is based on the core belief that psychological problems are caused by unhealthy and damaging ways of thinking and behaviors. People who suffer from these harmful coping mechanisms can learn new healthy ways of coping with their pain and trauma. CBT Therapy can include mindfulness training, role-playing, meditation training, talk therapy, and other methods to help the patient recognize the negative or incorrect thoughts and utilize new coping skills to stop those thoughts and overcome the urge to self-harm.

Self-Harm Resources

Some other resources that those who struggle with self-harming urges can utilize to help them overcome this difficult struggle.

Text a Crisis Counselor at 741471

To Write Love on Her Arms - (From the website) “A nonprofit dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harming urges or behaviors, we can help! At Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, we offer a safe and non-judgemental space to tell your story. Many of our therapists specialize in working within the CBT modality, and several have experience working with youth and young adult populations. To speak to someone about beginning your journey towards healing with us, please call the number at the top of the page, or click the “make an appointment button,” and a member of our team will reach out to help you get started.

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