What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is defined as the act of harming oneself without suicidal intent. It is impacting “5% of adults” and “10% of teenagers” of the population (Laye-Gindhu pg.1). In addition self-harm is gaining attention from mainstream media and becoming more of a prevalent issue. This coping method spawns from overwhelming feelings such as anger or isolation in both females and males. The feelings involved vary depending on the gender due to gender roles in society. Females report self-harming because of the pressures placed on them to be good enough. Males on the other hand report self-harming to “punish themselves” or boredom (Laye-Gindhu pg.5). Self-harm is linked to mental disorders such as anorexia, depression, anxiety,borderline personality disorder, and more.
Self-harm does not necessarily mean that an individual is suicidal. It can be a cry for help or a way to cope with the feelings they are going through. Since it allows a release to overcome feelings of loneliness, boredom, sadness, anger, and more it can be a coping method for these individuals. Although about “half of those who commit suicide,” stated by NHS Choices, have had a history of self-harm. There is an addictive aspect to those participating in these actions. One is a chemical response of endorphins released in the brain when self-harming. Hence the individual becomes used to this chemical response and relies on the feeling in the future.
The feelings that drive someone to find release in self-harm are unique to the person. There are a few common drives that have been researched by Mary Nixon. A traumatic event such as sexual assault or abuse is a push towards finding control. This control, release of guilt, and other emotions provide that space for finding something they are in control of. Another focus is mental disorders, from depression or anxiety. An individual that has the feeling can be in control when feeling overwhelmed. The act also serves to numb themselves to the emotions of sadness and loneliness.
Self-harm comes in many forms such as burning, cutting, and hair-pulling, scratching, or punching their bodies, misusing substances, and starving. Additionally, engaging in risky behavior can be a form of self-harm. This risky behavior can be for example, reckless driving whether it be speeding or swerving on the road. While it can vary depending on the individual, it can depend on what is available to them. Whitlock researched among college students what methods they used and reported that many used “between 2-4 self-injury methods.”
Signs of Self-Harm
With the mode of self-harm coming to light and the addictive aspect, it is time to acknowledge the signs that someone may be self-harming. First of all, acknowledging physical aspects that indicate a person is going through this can be fresh bruises or cuts. There may be scars on their body, not limited to arms but legs, or stomach. When attempting to hide these physical wounds, someone may wear long sleeves to cover their arms. Additionally there may be frequent bandages, and long pants to hide these injuries.
Personal Lives and Medical History
Aside from physical aspects, noticing the family of the loved one can provide insight. If their parents are going through a divorce, or seeing that they are being abused can be an indicator that they are going through a difficult time in their lives. From family issues, it can be a traumatic event that the individual went through such as sexual assault or a loss of someone close. Again, listening to what the loved one is going through is key to gaining insight about how they are feeling at that point in their life.
Family mental health history can be a relevant point to focus on. It can provide information if the individual is likely to have a mental disorder pasted down in their genetics.Concluding that self-harm may be linked to mental disorders ranging from depression to eating disorders. Mental health history can allow further identification of what feelings the loved one may be having.
Behavioral signs can also show that an individual is not feeling themselves. These behaviors can be withdrawing from social outings or hanging out. They may become quiet and not find joy in activities they enjoyed in the past. Being able to acknowledge if they are misusing substances such as alcohol or drugs when going out to a party can provide that difference in behavior. In addition, other behavioral signs can be poor impulse control in their daily lives. Finally, when they are talking, whether joking or in normal conversation, saying phrases that express they are feeling “worthless, out of control, or hopeless” (Nixon pg.6).
Understanding self-harm as a whole can be difficult for a friend, or someone that has not been through it themselves. Addressing the concern with a friend or family member can be daunting at first. Consequently, whether or not they will come across in a manner that will be helpful to the person self- harming is a prevalent question. As a result, to provide a safe space for open communication for this loved one there are some steps you can follow:
- Ask how they are feeling
- Do not have judgment towards the individual or the action
- Do not make them feel guilty about the effect on others
- Let them know you are ready to listen to them
- Use compassion and respect even though you may not understand their feelings
- Do not give them ultimatums
- Do not overreact or appear shocked
- Practice patience
- Seeking professional help or offering it as a suggestion
- Provide love and support to the individual
- Reaching out to a trusted adult (counselor, parent, etc.)
- Honesty towards seeking professional help
- Provide coping techniques they could try
- Practicing self-care for you as individual
- Education on the topic of self-harm
- Crisis Hotlines
Hotlines and Support
Crisis Text Line: 741-741
- Hotline that uses text rather than calling to communicate with individuals
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800- 273-8255
Crisis Call Center: 775-784- 8090
Poison Control: 800-222- 1222
- If you or a loved one has ingested poisonous chemicals and need immediate help
Teen Help Adolescent Resources: 800-840- 5704
To Write Love on Her Arms: https://twloha.com/
- Movement to help connect those going through self-harm
- Online support groups connecting individuals going through similar struggles
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