What is Self-Harm?

No one is immune to anxiety or stress, and for some teenagers it can be a struggle to find the appropriate coping method for their daily ups and downs. This is what leads to self-harm as a way to express pain that cannot be put into words. Self-harm — deliberately hurting oneself on purpose — indicates a lack of coping skills, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the pain teens inflict on themselves can be seen as a form of release. It is fleeting, however, and the short-term relief of self-harm can lead to more excessive, dangerous, and possibly fatal actions.

What are the signs of Self-Harm?

Although the wounds and scars left behind by self-harm are evident, teens make attempts to hide them from their parents, often by wearing long sleeves or pants. Any unexplained injuries or evidence of bloodstains on clothing may indicate a teenager is committing self-harm. These actions usually occur when a person is alone, so a parent should try to observe patterns of isolation or withdrawal in their teenager. In many cases, sharp objects such as knives and razor blades are used to commit acts of self-harm. While a parent may be hesitant to invade their teen’s privacy, it may be necessary to go through their personal belongings and look for these items if self-harm is suspected.

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Why would my teen commit Self-Harm?

A person will commit self-harm when they need an emotional release. Teenagers who choose to hurt themselves may be overwhelmed by different emotions — fear, anxiety, anger, panic, guilt, or confusion. Whether they choose to hit themselves, cut themselves, burn themselves, or harm themselves in another way is an indication that they don’t know how to deal with their internal pain. Instead of going to someone for help, they have chosen to act out their aggressions on themselves with the hope that whatever is ailing them will go away. Left unchecked and untreated, this can become a habit.

Self-harm routinely begins in the early teen years, according to the Mayo Clinic, when teens face the anxieties of peer pressure and often come into conflict with their parents and other adults.

What are some Self-Harm methods?

There are many different forms of self-harm. While cutting is the most well-known, other methods include:

  • Burning (using lit cigarettes, matches, or other hot objects)
  • Pulling out hair
  • Scratching
  • Picking at wounds that have yet to heal
  • Carving words or symbols into the skin
  • Hitting

A person may use more than one method of self-harm, and the most frequent targets are the arms, legs, and front of the torso.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is self-harm the same as attempting suicide?

No, but if self-harm becomes a habit a teenager could inadvertently put his or her life at risk. A teen committing acts of self-harm may also be having suicidal thoughts that could be alleviated through treatment.

Is self-harm a mental illness?

Self-harm is not a mental illness. It indicates a lack of coping skills when faced with tremendous stress or anxiety. A mental illness such as general anxiety disorder or depression may lead to a person committing acts of self-harm.

Are boys more likely to commit self-harm than girls?

According to a 2011 study, one in 12 young people, mostly girls, committed acts of self-harm. However, any teen is at risk if he/she cannot find the proper way to express their emotions.

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