Reasons why people self-harm and how to stop them.

mental health issues, self-harm, mental illness, mental help

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is often misunderstood. It is important not to label or judge these behaviors. We can help support those who experience this by seeking to understand them better.

Self-harm is often described as a deliberate injury to oneself, typically as a manifestation of a psychological or a psychiatric disorder. Self-harm can manifest in the form of cutting, burning, skin picking, scratching, or causing any other form of injury to oneself. Typically, self-harm is done as a means to cope with stressful and emotionally overburdening situations than as a genuine suicide attempt.

Self-harm can also look like:

  • Being Impulsive- Acting on impulse to avoid decision making
  • Diet- Skipping meals or eating things that harm your body
  • Talking down to yourself- Continually telling yourself you are worthless
  • Over exercising- Exercising to a point it hurts you
  • Time Alone- spending increased amount of time alone
  • Casual Sex- Frequent casual or violent sex
  • Drugs and Alcohol- Using drugs or binge drinking to escape reality

Why do people indulge in self-harm?

All types of self-harm use physical pain to address emotional problems. Still, the relief that self-harm offers some individuals is only for the time being. It does not directly help a person to work through their issues that created the impulse but instead self-harm can prevent people from developing safer, more effective coping mechanisms. It creates problems at work or school, also lowers one’s self-esteem, and intensifies one’s aloofness . In the long run, self-harm often worsens a person’s problems rather than solving them.

Other possible reasons people indulge in these behaviors:

  • Trying to feel in control
  • Relieving tension
  • A way of punishing themselves
  • A cry for help
  • Expressing or coping with emotional distress
  • Due to a personality disorder
  • Suicidal thoughts and ideation
  • To identify and recognize their emotions and what it achieves from self-harming behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • To feel in control
  • Family conflict
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Struggling with anxiety, depression or stress
  • Being in contact with criminal justice
  • Being bullied
  • Pressure at work or school

Signs and symptoms of self-harm may include:

  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Cuts (both fresh and old), scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn or a mark
  • Keeping sharp objects handy
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot/uncomfortable weather
  • Frequent reports of accidental injury
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness

Psychological issues associated with self-harm:

Self-harm can occur in people with or without mental health issues. However, certain diagnoses are strongly linked to self-harming behavior, including:

  • Bipolar Disorder: A 2010 study looked at both children and adolescents with bipolar. In both the age groups it was found that 22% of youngsters engaged in self-harming behaviors during their most recent mood episode. Youngsters with severe depressive symptoms were more likely to self-harm.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD): In a 2015 study of adolescents, 52% of youth who self-harmed also met the criteria for borderline personality. An estimated 78% of teens with borderline personality engaged in self-harm. It could be said that most people with BPD self-harm, but only half of those who self-harm have Borderline Personality Disorder.
  • Eating disorders: An estimated 55% of people who self-harm have an eating disorder. Research shows that people suffering from an eating disorder tend to objectify their own bodies. An individual may see their body as a thing rather than part of their self as a result this objectification may allow them to cut, starve, or otherwise hurt their bodies more easily.

Self-harm and mental health conditions often overlap and feed each other. Treatment typically involves addressing both; the diagnosis and the self-harm behavior.

Strategies to cope with self-harm:

  • Get outside
  • Talk to a friend
  • Guided Positive Imagery
  • Doing something creative
  • Seek professional help
  • Release Energy or tension
  • Be creative
  • Clean your room or house
  • Make a paper chain and add a new chain each time you don’t self-harm

Activities to cope with Self-harm:

  • Let yourself cry
  • Maintain a journal
  • Practice yoga, meditation or exercise
  • Hug a soft toy or a pillow
  • Squeeze some ice cubes
  • Go for a walk
  • Listen to music
  • Tear up old papers, magazines or photos
  • Take a cold shower or bath
  • Memorize a song or a poem

How can you prevent someone from indulging in Self-harm?

There isn’t a perfect way to prevent someone from indulging in self-harming behavior. However, reducing the risk of self-harm includes strategies that involve both individuals and communities. Parents, family members, teachers, co-workers, or friends can help.

  • Identify someone at risk and offer help. Individuals at risk can be taught resilience and healthy coping skills that can be used during periods of intense stress.
  • Encourage expansion of social networks. Many people who self-harm feel lonely and disconnected. Helping someone form connections with people who don't self-harm can improve relationships and communication skills.
  • Raise awareness. Learn about the warning signs of self-harm and what to do when you suspect it.
  • Encourage peers to seek help. Peers tend to be loyal to friends. Encourage children, teens, and young adults to avoid secrecy and reach out for help if they have a concern about a friend or loved one.
  • Talk about media influence. News media, music, and other highly visible outlets that feature self-harm may nudge vulnerable children and young adults to experiment. Teaching children critical thinking skills about the influences around them might reduce the harmful impact.

If you know someone who has harmed themselves or showing signs of self- harm, help them seek help from a mental health therapist.

Find your nearest centre

Mpower , an Aditya Birla Education Trust has mental health centres in various locations like Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Pune.

Also read,

Mental health issues due to isolation/loneliness. Find a mental health therapist near you.

Activities to combat mental illness. Find a mental health therapist in Mumbai

Image credits - Freepik