Humans and animals instinctively protect themselves from harm because survival is hardwired into the DNA of all sentient beings. But psychological harm or illness can interfere with what one might assume to be a given. Nearly one-fifth of all people will self-harm at some point in their lifetimes. Most who do so are teenagers. Self-harm is a disorder that goes by two names. It is known as deliberate self-harm (DSH) and also as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Recognizing self-harm tendencies in someone you love is the first step toward getting them help in a self-harm treatment program.
To learn more about how to identify the signs and symptoms of self-harm, reach out to Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge (PAATC). We understand the underlying issues and co-occurring mental health disorders that many who injure themselves are struggling with. For example, depression or anxiety symptoms in teens often co-occur with self-harm. Reach out to PAATC today to have your questions answered. You can do so by completing this online form or by calling us at 844.442.8673.
While you may consider self-harm to be a cry for help, it is, more importantly, a way for some people to relieve pent-up pain, grief, anxiety, or stress. Anxiety symptoms in teens, especially, are often a precursor to self-harm.
Like drug and alcohol use, self-harm is often a way for individuals to soothe intolerable mental health symptoms, a form of self-medication, most commonly for anxiety or depression. Acts of self-injury are typically compulsive in nature. It is common for both OCD and anxiety to be present along with an NSSI.
Self-harming behavior is a red flag that there is more going on. Approaching anyone, adult or adolescent, about their self-harm needs to be done with compassion. Most people who injure themselves already feel intense levels of shame and have poor self-esteem, so any hint of judgment will alienate them and make it harder to get them to agree to help.
How do you know if someone you care about is self-injuring? It is almost certain that they work hard to hide any visible signs of their actions. However, if you notice anything that seems to reveal symptoms of the most common ways people self-harm, it is time to pay attention. The most likely physical signs would include:
- Band-Aids or other wound covers to hide scabs and scars from cutting or burning the skin
- Frequent bruises that might indicate hitting or punching the body
- Missing or thinning eyebrows or eyelashes, or other evidence of plucked body hair
- Wounds that won’t heal or become infected often, which might indicate excoriation disorder (keeping wounds open by removing scabs when they form)
- Wearing body-covering clothing in all seasons to hide scars
- Refusal to change clothes in front of people, even siblings or team-mates
Also, consider the pre-conditions for NSSI. The following often co-occur in people who self-harm:
- History of victimization, bullying, abuse, or neglect (including continuing experiences of these things)
- Recent painful loss or the experience of overwhelming or continuous grief over loss and tragedy
- Poor self-esteem and/or a tendency to engage in hateful or negative self-talk and self-criticism
- Addictive behaviors, compulsive behaviors, eating disorders, or substance abuse
- A mental health diagnosis such as anxiety disorder, major depression, OCD, or PTSD
- Family history of NSSI
This disorder often flies under the radar as those who suffer from it are experts at hiding symptoms and deflecting other people’s concerns. It is important to recognize self-harm in time to get help. If you have any doubts or concerns, seek professional advice.
Find Self-Harm Treatment at PAATC
Our treatments for teens and adults who self-harm are based on evidence and also can, when appropriate, include faith-centered therapies that often help teens reconnect with themselves in healthy ways.
Recognizing self-harm is a significant step toward getting someone the help they need. If your teen is showing signs of self-harm, poor self-esteem, anxiety, or any of the other symptoms mentioned above, don’t hesitate. Look into self-harm treatment at PAATC today. Call us at 844.442.8673 or fill out this online form, and someone will reach out.