Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and deliberate self-harm (DSH) are unfortunately common mental health diagnoses among teens in the US and abroad. It’s estimated that more than 15% of teens will self-harm at least once, while only one in five of those who do so will seek or receive therapeutic treatment for these symptoms, or for other disorders that often accompany self-harm, such as anxiety or depression. Self-harm in teens is a significant concern to mental health professionals, parents, and educators. The first step to seeking help from a self-harm treatment program is acknowledging that there is a problem and that it’s OK to ask for help.
At Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge (PAATC), we have more than 60 years of experience working with teenagers to help them with challenges that include addiction and self-harm. Our trained staff can answer any questions you may have about NSSI or DSH and how to get your teenager the help they need. Reach out to us by dialing 844.442.8673 or using our online form.
Teen Mental Health Day
March 2nd of every year is a day devoted to the mental health of teens. This teen mental health day is called World Teen Mental Wellness Day and seeks to raise awareness about the mental health challenges that teens face across the globe. Part of its impetus is to remove the stigma from mental health issues so that teens and their families are more likely to seek the help they need.
Because NSSI and DSH are more prevalent among teens than adults in all countries, these disorders are of significant focus among those who treat adolescents. Self-harm treatment programs are the most effective approach to helping a teenager leave self-injury behind.
Self-Harm in Teens
Why do teens turn to self-injury? The turbulence and stress of the teen years can be overwhelming. Harming themselves, whether through cutting, burning, or other methods often feels like a release of whatever is pent-up. There are other common causes for this behavior. Teens may inflict harm on themselves to:
- Ease panic, anxiety, or extreme stress
- Soothe feelings of anger
- Mitigate depression
- Reveal that they are in trouble so they can get help
- Express feelings of self-hatred
- Punish themselves
- Escape from numbness by making themselves feel something
The age of onset, on average, for teens to begin self-harming is 13. Because this is an average, some begin at a younger age. Parents can help by keeping dialogue about mental health open with their children and teenagers.
Addressing Self-Harm in Teens
For parents who are concerned about their teenager’s self-harming behaviors, communication can feel like uncertain terrain, chock-full of land mines. You may only suspect self-injury is taking place. How do you find out? How do you talk to your teen?
About half of those who self-harm do reach out for help, but rarely to professionals. They may confide in a friend or family member. The other 50% keep their struggles under wraps to deal with them on their own. Being proactive within the family by keeping the doors of communication open about other things as well is one way to create a relationship in which a teen may feel comfortable being vulnerable with family about self-harm. There’s a lot of shame that accompanies self-harm, which further complicates a teenager’s ability to be honest about it.
Slightly more teens will engage in NSSI than DSH. NSSI, or non-suicidal self-injury, indicates harming one’s body without any suicidal intention. DSH, or deliberate self-harm, has non-fatal outcomes but may include thoughts of suicide.
Some things to keep in mind when addressing self-harm in your teen:
- Communicate without judgment
- Don’t push—your teen will likely resist you at first
- Let your teen know you are available, want to help, and understand how hard it’s to open up
- Stay positive, which includes trying not to show that you are scared or frustrated
- Set an example of openness about emotions and how you address your own stress or anxiety
It’s also important for you to find support and help as you navigate this journey with your teen. Finding a therapist or support group for you is a great idea.
PAATC Can Help You and Your Teen
On teen mental health day and throughout the month of March and beyond, engage in conversations with the whole family about the importance of mental health and that mental health is health. Addressing a mental health challenge is as important and normal as fixing a broken leg or going to the doctor when you’re sick.