There are behaviors that we tend to keep hidden from others due to shame, embarrassment, anxiety, stigma, or fear. This month, I would like to increase awareness of self-injury, which is especially prevalent among teens and college students. Self-injury includes deliberate acts of harm on one’s body that are typically done in an attempt to help relieve intentse emotional pain that has become overwhelming. Forms of self-injury include skin cutting, burning, scratching, piercing/ puncturing the skin as well as hitting/ punching self, or head-banging. Although the intent to cause serious harm is typically not the goal, it is certainly a possibility and therefore should not be treated lightly.
Individuals who engage in self-injury tend to struggle with expressing emotions, regulating emotions, and coping with distress. They may feel lonely, worthless, alone, or rejected. For those who struggle with accepting or loving their self, self-injury may be a way to punish themselves. Individuals may feel anxiety/ panic and out-of-control, wanting distraction. For some people, self-injury helps relieve tension associated with anxiety, anger, or frustration. For others, self-injury serves as an escape to feelings of numbness.
The signs and symptoms of self-injury are often hidden and done in private. For example, self-injurious behaviors tend to take place when friends/ family members are sleeping or not at home. Injuries such as cuts, scratches, burns, or scarring may be covered by long sleeve clothing or done on places of the body such as the torso or thighs. It is so important to reach out and talk to someone such as a trusted friend, family member, or community support. It is also important to consult and seek help from a professional in the medical or mental health field. If you are concerned about someone who engages in self-injury here are some ways to help:
How to Help Someone Who Self-Injures
- Increase awareness of self-injury.
- Listen in a caring, supportive, and nonjudgmental manner.
- Encourage use of healthy coping skills to help build resilience.
- Take talk and behaviors of self-injury as serious.
- Increase social connections.
- Assist with locating or suggesting people who can help. Resources include a pediatrician or school counselor (for children), primary care physician, mental health professional, spiritual/faith-based leader, or supportive friend/ family member.
- Call 911 or to seek help for life-threatening injuries or suicide attempt.
- Reach out to your local crisis recourses or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
It takes a big step of courage to reach out. My hope is that individuals who engage in self-injury can feel comfortable to seek support by getting treatment to help learn healthier coping strategies. Please join others as they speak up and seek help during Self-Injury Awareness Month. Your collective voice is so important as we work together to help reduce the stigma.
Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC