Stopping Self Harm

Self harm, though rare, is all too common, particularly but not exclusively among teenagers. Self harm is the practice of intentionally causing injury, but without suicidal intention. Though cutting is perhaps the most common form, and certainly the paradigmatic one, there are a number of manifestations of self-injury, including scratching, hair-pulling, deliberate bruising, burning, poisoning, and preventing wounds from healing, either by itself or in combination with one of the others. Some experts classify eating disorders under the self harm umbrella. In fact, it is not uncommon for an individual to self harm in more than one way. Though often regarded as attention-seeing behavior, self harm is almost always kept hidden by those who do it, taking on aspects of a private ritual.

Self harm is related to mental illness, and is often associated with it. Though the practice is not generally an indicator of suicidal behavior, and the link is exaggerated in the public consciousness, both are associated with clinical depression. In addition, self harm often occurs with autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, and schizophrenia, among others. The urge to harm the self is often viewed as a means of exerting control over the environment; as such, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder often harm themselves. The practice is what some experts term socially contagious, in that people with friends who engage in it are more prone to do so themselves.

Having a friend or loved one who self injures can be scary. Parents need to resist the urge to yell, which can make things worse, or to confiscate equipment, which will only lead to greater ingenuity. Friends of a self-injurer, can help by acknowledging the pain while trying to steer the person towards a more productive coping strategy. Parents should do the same, but are likely to also be in a position to secure professional help for their child.

People who self injure and want to stop can find it difficult. It helps to create a strategy. By noticing events and situations that trigger the urge to harm, the self injurer can try to find ways to avoid those triggers. Finding distractions, or a less dangerous displacement activity, is also helpful. Other calming techniques—a bath, music, medication—can provide a better, safer substitute.

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