One of the misconceptions about cutting and adolescence is that they must go hand in hand. Many people believe that because the teenage years are turbulent teens will exhibit risky behavior and then grow out of it. However, in the case of cutting and other forms of self-harm, this simply isn’t true. Self-harm is a symptom of mental illness and it needs to be addressed. Furthermore, self harm is a behavior that occurs for people at any age. Because it is associated with mental illness and not adolescence, anyone could exhibit self harming behaviors.
Self-harm is injurious behavior towards one’s own body, typically without the intention of committing suicide. It can include cutting, biting, scratching, burning, and bruising the skin. However, self-harm can also include excessive exercise, pinching oneself, increased drinking, sabotaging good relationships, staying with others who do not treat you well, pulling one’s hair, mixing medication with alcohol and other drugs. There are many variations of ways to harm oneself. Yet, often, there is an intention to do harm behind the injurious behavior.
Self-harm is often a way to cope with intense emotions, to calm and soothe, to feel more alive when feeling disconnected or numb, or to release pent up anger. Because there are multiple reasons why an individual might engage in self-injury, treating self-harm is multifaceted. For this reason, part of the treatment itself is to tenderly support an adolescent in getting in touch with the reason behind their behavior.
However, it should be noted that if the tools for self harm were removed (such as razors, scissors, or drugs), the self injurious behavior may not stop. Even if a parent or concerned loved one were to remove the means for self-harm, the behavior and the need for the behavior might still be there. For this reason, it’s best to talk to a teen, or whoever might be experiencing self-harm, to get at the underlying reason for their behavior. Yet, in this case, it might be best to call upon the support of a mental health professional in order to provide the proper care. In fact, in many cases, medical attention might be needed in order to tend to any physical wounds that the self harming might have caused. When the physical wounds are tended to, it’s important to provide mental health care as well.
If you’re a teen who cuts or if you know someone who cuts or hurts themselves in some way on a regular basis, you should know that there are many people who can help. The most important thing to know is that you are not alone in this. There are others who are going through the same challenges. In fact, one of the treatment methods for self-harming behavior is to join a support group in which there are others who also cut that gather to support one another.
For now, however, it’s important to recognize that help is not far. Simply by dialing one of the numbers below you can access a mental health professional you might guide you or a friend out of the self-harming challenges you’re in.
A few hotlines that address self harm include:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Self-Injury Helpline: 1-800-DONT-CUT (366-8288)
24-hour Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
Self-Injury Foundation: 1-800-334-HELP
Once you or your loved one is in recovery for self-harm, the following is an action plan you can follow together:
- Hold on to the belief that recovery is possible
- Remember that there will be ups and downs.
- Make sure your teen knows that she can direct the pace of recovery.
- Help your teen stay focused and motivated, yet still be sensitive to her emotional mood.
- Encourage the rest of the family to be sensitive.
- If you’re unsure about how to help your teen in recovery, ask her.
- Make time for your teen and invite her to share about her process.
- Discuss any setbacks calmly and safely explore the reasons behind them.
- Discuss various ways of coping with emotions versus self-harm.
- Provide extra support when it appears that circumstances might get in the way of recovery, such as spending time with certain friends, or an unexpected emotional challenge that might further self-harm.
The above hotline numbers as well as action plan can be incredibly useful tools if you or a loved one is experiencing self-harm. It’s important for a teen to know that he or she is not alone. Help is easy to access by calling one of the numbers above.