Mental health issues, left untreated, can sometimes lead to some unhealthy and even dangerous behaviors such as self-harm. Although people who hurt themselves intentionally are often in intense mental anguish, self-harm is not necessarily a suicide attempt. It is an attempt to ease psychic suffering by focusing on physical pain and it serves as a habitual coping mechanism for people dealing with issues of depression and anxiety.
Intentional self-harm is actually one of the most common reasons young people go to the emergency room in the U.S. and 80-90 percent of those who self-harm have at least one psychiatric disorder. Treatment is usually necessary in order to minimize the behavior and prevent self-injury from escalating. Underlying mental health issues are usually the cause of self-harm and these need to be treated by professionals who can address the reasons for the behavior. This self-harm treatment guide provides information on the issue and steps for getting help.
Different Forms of Self-Harm
It can be difficult to recognize self-harm, as many individuals may hide their scars out of shame or the need for secrecy. There are several types of self-harm that people may engage in as a way to escape their feelings and a single person might use more than one type.
The most common form of self-harm is cutting which involves literally making small cuts on parts of the body such as the wrists, arms and legs using tools like razors. Cutting will leave a number of raised scars which some may hide using long sleeves or pants. People also engage in self-harm by burning themselves with hot objects such as lighters and cigarettes.
Other types of self-injury include hair pulling (trichotillomania), head-banging, hitting (with a heavy object or hammer) and biting. At times, self-harm methods may simply heal unnoticed but in more severe cases the individual will end up in the emergency room on multiple occasions.
Why do People Self-Harm?
There are many reasons why a person might hurt themselves but most often there are psychological issues and intense feelings at the root of the behavior. When someone is in overwhelming emotional pain or is experiencing a type of distress that they don’t know how to cope with then they might turn to self-harm as a temporary release. A minor injury allows them to feel physical pain on the outside which can distract them from their emotional pain inside.
Some people who have experienced physical or sexual abuse might harm themselves as a way of controlling and managing pain because they cannot control the abuse that happens to them. Others might engage in self-harm as an indirect call for attention or cry for help because they want to feel someone cares about them. Cutting can also be a symptom of low self-esteem and self-hatred when the person hurts themselves as a form of punishment because they feel they are worthless or undeserving of love.
Recognizing Types of Self-Harm
If you think someone you love might be involved in self-injury then there are some signs you can look for that will help you recognize certain types of self-harm. If they tend to always wear loose baggy clothing or long sleeves and pants even in very hot weather then they might be trying to hide scars or cuts.
In some cases you might notice that they do have cuts or burns on their body but they make excuses for them or invent stories for how they got them. When you are in the person’s home or bedroom you might find razors, lighters, scissors or knives in strange places or even hidden in one container. They might spend long periods of time locked in the bathroom or bedroom where they are self-harming and then hide the evidence. Someone who engages in self-harm might become isolated or avoid social situations because of their behavior.
How Do I Tell Someone I Self-Harm?
If you have been involved in self-harm for a period of time it may feel intimidating to tell someone. You might feel worried about being judged or making loved ones angry because of your behavior. However, if you feel ready to stop hiding and get help then talking to someone about your problem is an important step to take.
You should be cautious about who to tell and carefully choose someone you really trust that will be supportive. Talking to them face to face is the best option but if you decide to write a letter or e-mail make sure to follow it up with a conversation in person. The person may be shocked initially so give them some time to digest and answer any questions that they have about it. Understand that it may be difficult for them to hear and avoid blaming them or anyone else for why you self-harm. You should also make it clear that you want to get help so that they don’t have to worry unnecessarily.
Getting Self Harm Treatment
When you or someone you love feel ready to get help for self-injury then it is time to look into getting an assessment for treatment. Most often, the underlying cause of self-harm is an undiagnosed mental disorder so it is important to make an appointment with a psychiatrist to determine if there are any conditions for which you meet the criteria. Mental illnesses such as major depression, anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder are often associated with self-injury and each of these problems requires professional treatment.
You can choose to enter a treatment center or receive help from a personal therapist that will help treat the emotional issues that cause you to hurt yourself. In therapy you will learn more about what triggers you to self-harm and ways to avoid engaging in the behavior. You can also learn better coping mechanisms which are healthier ways of handling strong emotions and distress.
Understanding Self-Harm Addiction
While a person may begin the habit of self-harm due to emotional issues, the act becomes an addictive pattern that they may have trouble quitting. Because actions like cutting or burning act as a temporary relief from emotional pain, they become like a drug for people who continually self-harm.
Surprisingly, getting hurt can be addictive because it can give people a sense of euphoria. When our bodies are injured, endorphins get released into the bloodstream to help us handle the injury which results in a natural high. Cutting can become a type of self-medicating and it gets harder for a person to stop because it’s the method that they’ve developed to handle their feelings.In order to break the addiction, they need to learn alternative ways to release pain or stress and feel better. They can substitute destructive behaviors with non-harmful ones until their urge to self-harm subsides.
Self-Harm Disorder and Mental Illness
Although self-harm is a very prevalent problem, especially among young people below the age of 17 it has not yet been classified as its own disorder. Although it was recently under consideration to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a disorder known as non-suicidal self-injury it instead became listed as a condition requiring further study.
Mental health professionals were concerned about how often self-injury is mistaken for suicidal behavior when that is usually not the case. The new DSM V did not classify self-injury as a separate disorder but as a symptom of various other conditions including borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse, depression and anxiety. Self-injury is closely linked to mental illness but in itself is not considered a mental illness. That being said, many therapists have been specially trained to treat people with issues of self-harm and reduce instances of the behavior.
Finding Self-Harm Treatment Centers
Even without classification as a disorder, there are still treatment centers that cater specifically toward those who have issues with self-harm. If you have been diagnosed with an illness such as depression or anxiety, it is important to attend a treatment center that will address both your illness and your symptoms of self-harm simultaneously. Look for a treatment center that has qualified staff who are well-experienced in treating people that self-harm and also has programs designed for self-injury recovery.
In this type of treatment center you will be a part of a community that is dealing with similar problems to your own. You can connect with other patients and share the experience of recovery so that it will become more meaningful. Staying in a treatment center that specializes in treating self-harm addiction will help ensure that you do not relapse when you leave the facility.
What Happens in Rehab Self Harm
If you choose to enter a residential treatment center and live in the facility for a period of time then you can focus more intently on recovery. It can be easier to break the cycle of self-harm when you are in a safe environment without access to the type of tools you used in the past to hurt yourself. A treatment facility is also a therapeutic place that will allow you to talk to people about the emotional pain you have been experiencing instead of turning to physical pain to cope.
In rehab you can talk one on one with a qualified therapist who understands the causes and treatment solutions that are necessary to prevent self-harm. They can help you deal with the symptoms of self-harm and any mental illness that is associated with your problem. You will also have group therapy and family therapy in some treatment centers to help you communicate more with others about your personal problems.
How to Get Rid of Self-Harm Scars
People who are in recovery may want to move on from their past issues of self-harm and part of that process may include getting rid of scars. Although some scars may never fully disappear, there are plenty of products, home remedies and even medical procedures that can help reduce the appearance of scars and make you feel more confident.
Over the counter products like silicon gel sheets, topical creams or gels may be applied to scars and over time will help flatten and reduce scarring. These kinds of products can take several months so see any kind of improvement but they are relatively inexpensive and can be found at a local drug store. For more serious scarring there are medical procedures available such as dermabrasion, skin grafting, scar revision surgery and laser resurfacing. These procedures can make a dramatic difference but they usually require anesthesia and can be much more costly than over the counter options.
When you have completed treatment you will have to return home and learn to live your everyday life without engaging in self-harm. This can be a difficult transition because many people have a very strong habit of self-injury and any time they experienced emotional pain they would react by hurting themselves. In normal life you will still feel pressure, stress, anger and many other emotions that could be triggering.
The important thing is to learn to recognize your triggers and find an alternate solution when you are feeling the urge to self-harm. You can use techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or talking to a close friend to help prevent you from relapsing. It can be helpful for people in recovery to continue attending therapy sessions to keep them on track with their progress even after leaving a treatment center.
As a person in recovery, it can feel cathartic to do something to give back to help people in need. Getting involved in self-harm awareness projects can be a great way to keep you grounded, prevent you from backsliding into old patterns and help others who are in a difficult place.
March in the U.S. is known as self-harm awareness month and it is a good time to get involved in community activities that help promote awareness and understanding. If you want to help organizations such as the Self Injury Foundation or other non-profit programs you can volunteer to give your time, donate funds or even share your story with others who are struggling with the same problems that you once did.