Self Harm and Mental Health

 March is National Self Harm Awareness month, so what a perfect time to shed some light on this often misunderstood condition.  Self-harm is not a suicide attempt. It does not only effect females. And, it is not just something someone does in order to receive attention.  It is a serious and harmful condition that affects people from all races, genders, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

 

What is it? Self-harm occurs when an individual intentionally and repeatedly causes injury or damage to their body without intending for the injury to be lethal.  There are several forms of self-harm, but the most common methods are skin cutting, head banging, hitting, and burning.

 

Who Self-harms? Self-harming is most common in teens and adolescents.  Recent studies indicate that 15% of teens reported some form of self-harm. That number jumps higher as teens head off to college, with 17%-35% of college students reporting some form of self-harm. However, this doesn’t mean this is only an issue for adolescents.  Approximately 4% of adults reported self-harm, and sadly, the statistics seem to be indicating a rise in the numbers of children between the ages of 10-14 years old who engage in self-harm.

 

Why Self-Harm? For many, self-harm is a way to cope with difficult - feelings, stressors, or events. Many sufferers express a feeling of emptiness and loneliness inside. For others, it is a way to demonstrate control, when everything else in their life seems out of control.  There is often a connection to other forms of mental illness, depression, OCD, anxiety disorders, or eating disorders.

 

What are the common warning signs?

  • Unexplained, frequent injuries
  • Low Self Esteem
  • Relationship, home, school or work issues
  • Clothing that seems inappropriate to the current weather.  For example, long sleeves and/or pants in the wintertime.
  • Difficulty expressing and handling feelings

 

What is the treatment? An evaluation by a mental health professional with self-injury expertise is the first step towards recovery.  There are many effective treatment options that can be utilized according to the patient’s individual needs.  Medications, learning new coping skills, outpatient therapy, in-patient therapy, and hospitalization have all been found to be effective treatment options depending on the victim.

 

For more information, please visit Mental Health America at www.mhanational.org.