Self harm is commonly known to be a behavior among teens. However, it should be pointed out that self harm is actually a behavior that occurs for people at any age. It’s commonly a symptom of a mental illness. For instance, if someone experiences depression, psychosis, or borderline personality disorder, then self-harm might be a symptom. And there are other important facts about self harm to keep in mind, especially if you or a friend experiences self harm.
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.
According to a recent study regarding teen mental health:
- 28% of 16 year olds reported experiencing serious personal, emotional or mental health problems at some point in the past year
- 13% of teens said that they had at some point in the past, seriously thought about taking an overdose or harming themselves and 6% had thought about this in the past.
- 13% had said they engaged in self-harm, 5% had done so once and 8% more than once.
Some believe that self harm is a means for teens or others to gain attention. Although self-harm is sometimes a cry for help, it is not always intended to be a way to gain attention from others. For instance, self-harm can be 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, it might be best to call upon the support of a mental health professional in order to provide any one who is self-harming with 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. As mentioned earlier, self-harm is not an attempt at suicide. Instead, it is a non-fatal act carried out with a purpose. Teens might harm themselves as a way to feel physical pain, to create a lasting sign of distress, as a punishment for perceived failure, to release feelings, or to cope with strong emotions that might result from trauma or challenging past experiences. Using self-harm as a coping mechanism for anxiety and other strong emotions is most common among teens and adults.
Mental Health Aid describes self-harming behavior like opening the lid of a boiling pot to provide a release of tension. Although it is a temporary relief, with proper treatment, such as medication and therapy, self-harm can be replaced with healthier coping mechanisms that are life affirming and safe.
Proper mental health care can also provide treatment for any underlying mental illnesses that might be causing the need to self harm. Obtaining a diagnosis can be an important step to treating self-harm in teens. The best way to care for a teen who is exhibiting self-harming behavior is to seek the professional service of a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.