March is Self-Injury Awareness Month.
When an individual is in severe emotional distress, they may turn to physical self-harm. Self-injury is intentional and a way for the person to mirror their emotional pain through physical pain. For some, a self-inflicted injury has a calming effect and helps them “feel something”.
Self-injury is much more common than many people might think. Because injuries can be hidden or explained away, many people do not realize when it is happening. It has been estimated that 15% of teenagers engage in self-harm, with this number dropping to 4% of adults. Common forms of self-injury are skin cutting (70-90%), headbanging or hitting (21-44%), and skin burning (15-35%).
As part of Self-Injury Awareness month, we are sharing important signs for friends and family to be aware of if they have a loved one with mental illness or suspect their loved one might be engaging in self-harm. Signs to look for include:
- Overdressing in warmer weather or only wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants
- Arms, legs, or other areas of the body that show signs of repeated injury which may or may not include scabs, burns, cuts, and bruises
- Making excuses for how or why they were injured repeatedly
- Withdrawal, isolation, or avoidance of activities they previously enjoyed
Self-injury most frequently occurs in adolescents. 90% of individuals start self-harming activities when they are children. Self-harm carries a great deal of shame and stigma to the individual who is suffering and only brings temporary emotional relief.
It’s important to remember that people who self-harm are not attention-seeking. Perpetuating this stigma is damaging and only serves to isolate them further. If you are concerned about a loved one, don’t just and try to be as supportive as you can be. Take the time to listen without judgment or acting disgusted by their actions. Help them find a mental health practitioner and be proactive in getting them the assistance they need. Drive them to their appointments, or if they are treated in an in-patient facility take the time to visit them if allowed.
During Self-Injury Awareness Month, take some time to learn about the condition and set aside any pre-conceived stigmas you might have. Many are too fearful of being judged and suffer far too long before getting help. With proper support and the assistance of mental health professionals, self-injury is treatable.
Crisis Text Line offers a text messaging service for individuals seeking help for self-injury. Text CONNECT to 741741 if you or a loved one need help.