There are over 3 million cases of self-harm each year. Learn more about what that means and how to work through it.
Self- harm has many synonyms including deliberate self-harm, self-injury, non-suicidal self-injury or self-poisoning. It is defined as the intentional, direct injuring of the body tissue without suicidal intentions. The most common form of self-harm is using a sharp implement to cut one’s skin, but it can take many other forms. Burning, scratching, hitting body parts, interfering with wound healing (dermatillomania), hair pulling (trichotillomania) or the ingestion of toxic substances are also considered self-harm behavior. Behaviors associated with substance abuse and eating disorders usually aren’t classified as self-harm as the tissue injuries that result from these disorders usually isn’t intentional. However, the boundaries of these disorders aren’t well defined, and one ailment can creep into the other, making them hard to diagnose and treat effectively.
Suicide and Self-Harm:
Suicide isn’t the intention of self-harm, but the relationship between self-harm and suicide is a complicated one. Self-harm can be potentially life-threatening, and many of those who are suicidal also self-harm, but classifying those who self-harm as suicidal is largely inaccurate.
Who and Why:
Self-harm is a common symptom of borderline personality disorder and is also common in those with depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The motivations for self-harm vary widely. Some use it as an escape or coping mechanism for intense feelings of anxiety or depression. It’s often associated with trauma, including emotional or sexual abuse. Self-harm is most common between the ages of 12 and 24 and is more common in females. Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 are five times more likely to demonstrate self-harm activities. Unfortunately, due to societal pressures and increased stress, teens and young adults have been engaging in self-harm at a higher rate in the last decade.
Due to the prevalence of this practice in adolescents, teens and young adults, it’s important to be mindful of a child’s stress levels and coping mechanisms in order to help find healthy ways to react to stressful situations.
How to cope:
If the self-harm episodes are related to anxiety or depression, therapy, antidepression medication or stress reduction techniques can be used to help lessen the desire to self-harm. If the self-harm is related to increased societal pressures, efforts should be taken to monitor social media activity and participate in self-care.
Self-harm is a complex condition that has numerous causes and can look different in various cases. No matter what form it takes, it’s a condition that needs to be taken seriously as it can be masking other conditions or unhealthy behaviors. The most important thing to remember is that if you or someone you know is self-harming, help is available. It’s a condition that can be overcome with the help of a therapist.
Dr. Jeffrey Ditzell is a Psychiatrist in New York City and specializes in issues involving anxiety depression and adult ADHD. Ketamine Infusion Therapy is one of the many treatments Dr. Ditzell offers to treat a variety of mental health issues.