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A Guide to Ending and Preventing Self-Harm

Self-harm is a frightening and often taboo topic. People may not like to talk about self-harm, but it is a serious problem that warrants attention. Ending and preventing self-harm is very important to overall health and well-being.

Nonsuicidal vs. Suicidal Self-Injury

There is a key difference between these types of self-harm, and that is suicide intent. Some self-injury is so severe that it is clearly meant to be a suicide attempt. If you fear that someone has caused this amount of self-injury, call the police immediately. This is a serious life-or-death injury that requires prompt care and attention from medical professionals.

Nonsuicidal self-injury is still very serious, but is not generally done in such an extreme and severe manner to be considered a suicide attempt. That being said, if you have any concerns that it could be a suicide attempt or that the person is in danger, contact the police. Nonsuicidal self-injury, while common, is still a measure of suicide risk and requires a significant amount of care to prevent it from happening again.

Facts About Nonsuicidal Self-Injury

According to Psychiatry, nonsuicidal self-injury is far more common in teens than adults, with an estimated one-third of teens participating in nonsuicidal self-injury. By comparison, the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry reports that 6% of adults engage in this behavior.

Regardless of age, this behavior is prevalent in assessing suicide risk. Nonsuicidal self-injury, also known as generalized self-harm, is often used to cope with mental health conditions and negative mental states such as anxiety, depression, trauma, emotional pain, and anger.

Some of the most common nonsuicidal self-injury practices include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Hitting oneself
  • Pinching oneself
  • Banging or punching walls
  • Breaking bones
  • Ingesting toxic substances
  • Interfering with healing wounds

Many teens who display acts of self-harm will say that they are not, in fact, suicidal but are in severe mental distress. According to Psychiatry, most teens who participate in self-harm have indeed had thoughts of suicide. In fact, an estimated 70% of teens who participate in self-harm have either attempted suicide once or multiple times, although many of them were not “serious” in their suicide attempts. These teens often state later that they did not actually want to die, yet they were displaying a very real and sad cry for help.

The Question We All Ask: Why? 

Many people, especially the parents of teens who participate in nonsuicidal self-injury, wonder why they do it. Why do they feel the need to harm themselves? Why are they feeling so low? The answer is quite simple: many teens who participate in self-harm are experiencing severe emotional distress, and they do not know what to do.

They do not want to hurt another person or property. Part of their pain may be self-loathing, fear, anxiety, depression, anger, or frustration over the lack of control of their life. Self-harm is often described by those who practice it as distracting or even soothing. The physical pain of nonsuicidal self-injury takes away the emotional pain they are experiencing, at least for a little while. It gives them a sense of control and allows for private reflection.

The Question We Need to Ask: How? 

What many people, including parents, need to be asking is how? As in, how can you help? How can you teach this person to manage their emotional pain? How do you learn what is causing it? And how do you fix it?

Treatment for nonsuicidal self-injury is not easy, but it is effective and can set a teen up with new coping strategies and a healthier mindset. The most effective form of treatment for self-harm is therapy and tender loving care. More specific treatments include:

  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT uses individual and group therapy to teach a wide range of skills, including emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, stress tolerance, and core mindfulness.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps a person manage their thoughts by identifying the thought, honoring it, and choosing a new reaction. CBT also includes the skills involved in DBT.
  • Family Support: People need family support if they are engaging in self-harm. They may also need commitment from the family to change the dynamic at home. Many teens report struggles at home as a stressor that contributes to their self-harm.

Take Steps Now to End and Prevent Self-Harm

Ending self-harm is not as easy as just going to treatment. There is a significant amount of work that families must do to ensure their loved one is safe and in a healing space. Ask your doctor or your therapist (or your child’s doctor or therapist) what you can specifically do to help.

To help prevent self-harm, it is important to be open, honest, and non-judgmental with your children and loved ones. Let them ask questions, listen to their concerns, and if you need guidance, ask a mental health professional for help.

Seeing your loved one engage in self-harm is sad, scary, and even taboo in some groups. There is no shame in admitting that you need help, and there are many mental health professionals who are trained and committed to helping people who participate in self-harm. If you believe your loved one has the intent to commit suicide, don’t gamble with their life. Ask for help today at RECO Intensive. We understand that self-harm is sometimes just a cry for help, but it should always be taken seriously. When self-harm is coupled with mental health issues and/or substance use, our professional staff and experienced alumni are here for you. We can create a plan that is specifically catered to your needs. RECO Intensive also offers family therapy to help you all heal together. To learn more, call RECO Intensive now at (561) 464-6533. We want to support you. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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