Self-harm or self-injury occurs when someone purposely hurts themselves in a non-lethal way. According to a recent study, about 15% of college students studied had self-injured at least once –– that number increased to 17% for adolescents. 

You might be tempted to say, “this problem doesn’t affect the people I love or me.” But unfortunately, the problem of self-harm is much more common than most realize. Read on to learn more about self-harm and how you can help someone in need.

What is Self-Harm and Who Does it Affect?

Self-harm or self-injury is the act of hurting yourself on purpose. A common method of self-harm is “cutting.” Cutting is often done with a sharp object, although any time someone deliberately hurts themself, it is self-harm. 

Some may feel the impulse to cause burns, pull out their hair, or pick at their wounds to prevent healing –– extreme injuries can result in broken bones.

As previously mentioned, the act of self-harm and self-injury is more pervasive than most consider. Although the issue is not as common in adults (about 5%), it is a concern nonetheless. Overall, about 1.3% of children ages five to 10 self-injure, which dramatically increases with a medical diagnosis of anxiety disorder or chronic mental distress. 

While most of those who self-injure are females, nearly 35% of males have engaged in self-injurious behavior at least once in their lives — about 47% of bisexual females self-harm. 

Why Do People Self-Harm?

Self-harm is a peculiar behavioral response to coping. While it is not classified as a mental illness, several illnesses include personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, if someone has a consistent illicit or abusive drug and alcohol misuse pattern, that individual is at a higher risk of self-injury. 

Examples of Self-Injury

Below is a list of items that could cause a person to consider self-harm

  • Express something hard to put into words
  • Turn invisible thoughts or feelings into something visible
  • Change emotional pain into physical pain
  • Reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts
  • Have a sense of being in control
  • Escape traumatic memories
  • Have something in life that they can rely on
  • Punish themselves for their feelings and experiences
  • Stop feeling numb, disconnected, or dissociated
  • Create a reason to care for themselves physically
  • Express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life

What Are the Post-Effects of Self-Injury? 

Following the act of self-injury, a person may feel “a short-term sense of release.” However, the stimulant of the distress (i.e., divorce) has likely not been resolved; this can lead to an endless cycle of emotional turmoil and self-injury. Self-harm can also bring up more painful emotions and leave the victim feeling worse than before.

After self-injury, someone may begin to experience shame and guilt. If this shame leads to intense negative feelings, they may seek to hurt themselves again. The result can be chronic, even ritualistic. 

What To Do if Someone Self-Harms

Have you noticed that your friend or child has been wearing longer clothing, acting more shy than usual, or has recently endured an emotional trauma? If you’re concerned that someone you love has had an episode of self-harm or is engaged in a chronic cycle of self-injury, here are a couple of things you can do. 

Talk About It

Are you someone they trust? If so, the first thing you can do is consider opening up to them. Keep in mind that their emotional competency may be lower than expected, and they will be tempted to receive your concern as words of hopelessness. Be gentle and encouraging.

Invite Others

If you feel ill-equipped to pursue a thoughtful conversation with them alone, do not be afraid to ask others to join you. While you want to avoid making the victim feel pressured, inviting one or two more friends into the conversation could be immensely helpful. 

Encourage Help

Although you should start with loving comments regarding their health, the best advice you might offer is for them to pursue medical or specialized help. Ensure them that self-harm is common and that a doctor or therapist could help. 

Seeking Professional Help for Self-Harm and Self-Injury | Seneca Health Services 

At Seneca Health Services, we have over 40 years of experience providing behavioral health services throughout southeastern West Virginia. Our staff is experienced in assessing and counseling adolescents, particularly when it comes to violent relationships and substance use disorders.

You don’t have to suffer. There is help for them and you. We are here to lend support to you, or someone you care for that is suffering from self-harm, relational violence, addiction, or substance use. If you or someone you know needs help, please do not hesitate to contact us today at 888.SENECA9 or use the link provided here