Self-injury is a topic of conversation that is difficult for most people to have. Self-harm carries a stigma that is difficult to break. We have to be available to have the conversation about what it is, and how to help those that struggle with it. Many are not even aware of what self-harm is and how people are affected by it.
Self-harm is more common than you might think.
Self-injury is more common than you might think. According to Mental Health America, 15% of teens struggle with some form of self-injury with an increase in college age students of upwards to 35%.
What is self-harm?
You may be wondering what it is? Self-injury is the intentional harming of a person’s body, and it is a coping mechanism. It is typically not meant as a suicide attempt, but as a way of expressing and dealing with distress, emotional pain, intense anger, or frustration. It temporarily distracts from the emotional pain or makes it less intense, but it doesn’t fix the underlying issue. The physical pain of self-harm is often easier to deal with than the emotional pain behind it. Self-harming can lead to feeling ashamed and that nobody else understands. The secrecy and guilt of self-harming can affect relationships and how someone feels about themselves. It happens across all genders, races, and ages. When people think of self-harm, most people gravitate towards cutting. However, self-injury includes a wide range of behaviors.
Some common ways of self-injury include: cutting, severely scratching, burning, or scalding skin, hitting or banging the head, punching or throwing body against hard objects, picking at skin and not allowing wounds to heal, and ingesting poisonous substances or inappropriate objects. Self-harm becomes addictive because it temporarily helps. While it’s hard for many to understand this rationale, it’s important to acknowledge that self-harm helps, otherwise a person would not do it. Often the self-harm allows the individual to express their feelings that they can’t put into words, which allows them to release the tension and pain. It can give an individual the feeling of being in control, it can also help distract from the overwhelming emotions or difficult circumstances.
This list may be helpful if you or someone you know is wrestling with self-harm.
- Don’t get angry, deny the problem exists, assume that it is a phase and the person will grow out of it, or that the person is attention seeking.
- Do stay calm and talk about it. Be supportive, do not judge. Take the problem seriously.
- Help the person seek treatment. Help them find the triggers that lead them to self-harm. Focus on the underlying issues rather that the injury. Once you know what the triggers are suggest other alternatives; exercising, using stress balls, journaling, listening to music, or expressing themselves artistically.
Written by Carole Heil.
Other self-harm resources:
- LookUp’s Self Harm Topic Page: : For Students
- To Write Love on Her Arms: For: All Ages | Website | Support | Help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicidal thoughts.
- Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery: For: All Ages | PDF | Informative | Lists numerous distraction techniques and alternative coping skills for dealing with self-harm.
- Help Guide on Cutting and Self-Harm: For: All Ages | PDF | Informative | Provides information on cutting and self-harm, including identifying triggers, finding new coping techniques, and how to support a loved one who cuts or self-harms.
- Calm Harm: For: Teens | App | Service | Timed activities to help resist or manage self-harm urges with ability to log completed activities and tracks progress.
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress, please reach out to a mental health professional or get confidential, free support and text LOOKUP to 494949 or chat online here.
If you live in Indiana and need help finding a behavioral health provider, visit Find Help or call (800) 284-8439.
Start the conversation. Silence the Stigma.