Have you found yourself concerned for a young person with cuts or scratches on their thighs or noticed a wound on their arm that seems to not heal?
Has there been a youth or student that you suspected might be harming themselves? Do you know how you would talk with a youth that is engaging in non-suicidal self-injury? Before you address someone’s non-suicidal self-injury, it is important to understand what self-injury is, why someone might engage in it, who is at greater risk of self-injury, and ways to help.
What is Self-Injury?
Non-suicidal self-injury, often referred to simply as self injury, is any deliberate behavior that inflicts personal injury to a person’s own body. It is essential to understand that individuals that engage in self-injury do not wish to kill themselves; whereas suicide or a suicide attempt is with the intent of ending ones’ life.
Self-injury is essentially a coping mechanism that enables a person to deal with intense emotional distress or pain. It may also be used as a way to ‘feel’ for a person who is feeling numb or dissociated. The injuries themselves can validate a person’s feelings, creating physical pain can be easier to cope with than the suppressed emotional pain.
There are many reasons why someone may engage in self-injury. Some youth and young adults may self-injure as a way to display their individuality, or be accepted by peers or others. The self-injury could be a result of risk-taking or rebelling, however, many injure themselves out of desperation, to show their hopelessness, or a cry for help. Additional reasons for self-injury may be:
- To feel pain or relief
- To establish control over their body
- To manage pain from past or current events
- To push themselves
- To exert influence over others
- To avoid or fight suicidal thoughts
Self-injury can affect anyone, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or personal strength. Self-injury does, however, often begin around the ages of 12 to 14. There is conflicting research on the prevalence of self-injury in the United States, some recent studies have found that 1/3 to ½ of adolescent have engaged in some type of self-injury, another studies believe it is 13% to 23%, and a recent report found self-injury to occur in 5% – 19% of middle and high school students.
There are certain factors that increase the risk of someone engaging in self-injury, these include:
- Age: Most people who self-injure are teens or young adults, although it can inflict all age groups. Teens are more susceptible to self-injury because teen emotions are more impulsive, teens face increasing peer pressure, and loneliness.
- Having friends who self-injure: Individuals who have friends who intentionally harm themselves are more likely to begin self-injuring.
- Life issues: Some who self-injury have or currently are neglected, sexually abused, physically abused, emotionally abused, or experienced a traumatic event. They may reside in an unstable family or home environment, or they may be struggling with their personal identity or sexuality.
- Mental health issues: Individuals who self-injure are more likely to be highly self-critical and have poor problem-solving skills. Self-injury is also commonly associated with certain mental health illnesses such as depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and eating disorders.
- Alcohol or drug use: Those who self-injure often do so while under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs.
Ways to help!
If the person has harmed themselves by consuming poison, an excessive amount of prescription or over-the-counter medication, or if the injury resulted in rapid or pulsing bleeding, call 911 and get them emergency medical attention. If the self-injury does not require emergency medical attention, here are some ways to assist:
1) Remember that self-injury is a coping mechanism so it should not be the focus or your attention
2) Be supportive and non-judgmental
3) Avoid negative expressions and remain calm
4) Express your genuine concern for the person’s well-being
5) See if there is anything you can do to help relieve the underlying pain or distress that they are feeling
And always remember to take care of your own emotional well-being and recognize when you may need some extra support in assisting with someone who self-injures.
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Author Profile: @ericevans