There are many reasons why someone may turn to self-harm. It is often seen as a way for people to cope with physical and emotional stress or mental health conditions.
If you’re worried that someone you care about is self-harming, this guide will help you learn what it is, the warning signs, and ways you can help them.
Self-harm is the act of injuring oneself as a way of coping with stress, mental health conditions, or psychological trauma. Some of the most common forms of self-harm include cutting, burning, or scratching of their skin. Others may hit themselves or cause damage to their body by piercing or putting other things into their bodies.
While it isn’t a diagnosable mental disorder, self-harm is often a symptom that stems from other mental conditions.
According to a recent study, approximately 17% of people will self-harm in one way or another during their lifetime. The same research showed that the average age most people start self-harming is 13 years old. About 45% of these individuals use cutting as the main choice for harming themselves.
There are many different ways that someone may inflict self-harm, though some are more common than others. Each of these practices can have long-lasting and damaging effects on both their physical and emotional health.
The most common types of self-injury include:
- Carving symbols or words into their skin
- Piercing their skin
- Picking at open wounds
- Hitting or punching themselves
- Banging their head on the wall or other surfaces
The majority of people who self-harm do it as a coping mechanism for handling their emotions, stress, or other mental health concerns. It is their way of taking control of the situation as a means of distracting them from what is going on around them. While they feel the pain, it is considered a calming experience for them.
The biggest reasons someone harms themselves are to:
- Feel the physical effects if they’re otherwise feeling numb
- Punish themselves when they feel they’ve done something wrong
- Process their anger, frustration, or doubt
- Have control over something in their lives
- Express emotions they don’t want others to see
Although these are their personal motives for hurting themselves, self-harm is usually done due to what is happening or has happened in their lives. Some of the common experiences that lead someone to self-harm include sexual assault, social rejection, family troubles, broken relationships, and difficulty at school or work.
There are physical and emotional symptoms of self-harm that can show in a variety of different ways. These effects can be seen and felt in the way someone acts, dresses, or talks.
The biggest warning signs of self-harm are:
- Random scars
- Fresh cuts or scratches
- Burns or bruises
- Carrying sharp objects with them
- Wearing long sleeve shirts, sweaters, or pants, regardless of weather
- Asking personal identity questions
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Guilt or shame
- Problems with their relationships
- Avoiding friends or family members
- Lying about even small things
While some of these actions are minimal at first, they can lead to more intense forms of self-harm, self-mutilation, and even suicide. This makes it essential to get them the proper care or treatment as early as possible.
There are plenty of treatment options and resources to help a friend or loved one stop self-harm. The more they feel loved and supported, the more likely they’ll accept help and overcome their strong emotions.
The moment someone inflicting self-harm feels judged or criticized for what they’re doing, they could instantly shut down and refuse help. Never dismiss their actions as a phase or something that will go away on its own. Instead, offer love and compassion for what they are going through to ensure they feel supported.
Just because someone is harming themselves doesn’t mean they are suicidal. Approach the situation with care and tact, solely focusing on what you know.
To ensure your family member or friends get the right care, it’s important to understand what is causing their desire to self-harm. The key things to know are how they are hurting themselves, how often, and what is making them feel the need to do it.
From the get-go, let them know that you are there for them and will be every step of the way. Whether they’re decisions or reasoning make sense to you or not, it is crucial that they feel your support.
It’s important to understand the severity of self-harm in any form and a professional will help you know the proper steps to follow. They’ll point you in the right and provide resources you can use to assist your loved one in getting the proper treatment.
Whether you or a loved one is self-harming, it’s vital that you know there is help available. Treatment options include evaluations by mental health experts, therapy, inpatient or outpatient hospitalization programs, and medication.
At Orange County Behavioral Health, we offer self-harm treatment as well as help with other mental health conditions.