March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to raise awareness about what self-harm is and how you can help people who struggle with the behavior. Self-harm is often a well-hidden concern, causing intense shame and emotional distress. While the typical definition of self-harm does not include suicide, self-harm can indicate that someone is at a higher risk of suicidal behaviors. Let’s look at the facts about self-harm and how it can be successfully identified and treated.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is defined as hurting oneself intentionally. Many of us think of cutting as a primary form of self-harm, but self-harm may manifest in other behaviors like hitting oneself, burning oneself, picking at injures and pulling hair. Although most people tend to think of self-harm affecting children and teens, adults are not immune to it. Self-harm affects all ages, genders, and socioeconomic classes.

You may be reading this and wondering why anyone would want to harm themselves. The answer is complex and often dependent on the individual. People may be trying to experience physical pain to overcome emotional pain. They may have difficulty expressing their feelings. They may feel numb and use self-harm to force themselves to feel something. Most people report an immediate sense of relief when they self-harm, due in part to the brain’s release of beta-endorphins in response to pain signals. Unfortunately, that release is short-lived and is often followed by feelings of guilt of shame.

What are the signs and symptoms of self-harm?

People who engage in self-harming behaviors may be very proficient at hiding the telltale signs. That’s why loved ones should be on the lookout for certain symptoms:

  • Scars and scratches, often forming words or patterns.
  • Wounds or burns with no clear explanation.
  • Frequent and excessive rubbing of the skin to create a burn.
  • Bite marks.
  • Wearing long sleeves, even in hot weather, to keep arms hidden.
  • Depression and difficulties with interpersonal relationships.
  • Unpredictable behavior and mood swings.

What are the risk factors?

As we said above, self-harm can affect anyone, even people who seem outwardly happy and carefree. However, there are certain factors that increase the risk for self-harm. These include:

  • Having friends who self-harm.
  • Showing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or stress.
  • Struggling with substance misuse disorder or eating disorders
  • Feeling isolated.
  • Experiencing stressful situations.
  • A history of abuse or trauma
  • People who are struggling with gender identity and sexual orientation.

Treating self-harm behaviors

Treating self-harm behaviors often begins with therapy to address the underlying reasons for the behavior. An effective therapist can help the patient tackle underlying emotions and learn new methods for handling stressful situations. If a person is also experiencing depression, substance misuse or other mental health challenges, those must be addressed in order to stop self-harming behavior. Medication may be used to treat those underlying issues. In some cases, family therapy can help parents and siblings learn how to understand and support their loved one as they work to get better.

Left untreated, self-harm can lead to mental health issues, severe injuries, and suicide.

What if you or someone you love is showing symptoms of self-harm?

If you’re engaging in self-harming injuries, or if you notice telltale signs like cuts, scratches, or unexplainable injuries, you may not know where to find help. That’s why it is important to reach out to someone you trust, whether it is a counselor, mentor, medical professional or friend. Many people may not know where to start when they want to seek therapy or support for self-harming behaviors. The Healthy365 Connection Center can begin this walk alongside you. Our support navigators are available to refer you to local services that provide the resources you need to overcome self-harming behavior.

Self-harm is a serious concern, but it isn’t one you need to bear alone. If you are worried about yourself or someone you love, reach out now to the Healthy365 Connection center at 317-468-4231.