Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of self-harm and suicide. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Self-injury or self-harm is practically the opposite of self-care.
People sometimes mirror emotional pain with physical pain. Sometimes, suffering people, especially teenagers, cut or burn themselves as a release valve. When they hurt themselves physically, the emotional pain often lessens. Other times, suffering people hurt themselves because they feel emotionally numb, and just want to feel something.
People who self-injure are heavily stigmatized. They are often labeled as attention seekers, especially girls, who are more likely to self-harm.
But self-harm is surprisingly common. Up to 15% of teenagers self-injure, as opposed to 4% of adults. An estimated 90% of self-harm starts around age 14, and continues into the late 20s. Self-harm crosses all boundaries: gender, social-economic, races, beliefs, and ages.
March is Self-harm Awareness Month in the U.S. The organizers have set aside March to combat self-injury stigma. For people who want to wear a ribbon to raise awareness of the issue, the color to wear to support people who self-harm is orange.
Signs of Self-Harm
Finding out that your teenager self-harms can be a shock. Most people who self-harm are able to hide their injuries successfully, or explain them away as accidental cuts and burns.
Be on the lookout for these common signs of self-injury:
- Wearing long sleeves and heavy coats and sweaters even in the hot, summer months
- Frequent, scabbed-over injuries on the arms or legs
- Repeated excuses as to how or why the teen became injured
- Isolation or withdrawal from normally pleasurable activities.
If you discover that your teen is self-injuring, you can help them address their self-harm. It’s not too late to seek help. Take them to a competent therapist who specializes in children and teenagers.
Suicide and Self-harm
Surprisingly, suicidal ideation is rarely a cause of self-harm. Most people who self-harm don’t want to die, they just want to release the pressure on themselves. Many people who self-injure do so to avoid suicide. However, those who have self-harmed are much more likely to attempt suicide or plan for it. The emotional distress that causes self-harm can cause suicidal ideation if not treated.
Self-injury Awareness Month is a time to set aside and combat stigma, especially gender-based stigma of girls as attention seekers. If it won’t put you in danger, try to be open about mental health and recovery. Too many people suffer in silence because they’re afraid of being judged.
If you or a loved one, especially your teens, engage in self-harm, it’s not too late to seek help. You can overcome this, together. Educate yourself about the disease of self-injury. Support your loved one, and, if you self-harm, try to perform self-care as a counter balance.
I wish you well in your journey.