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Education, healthy coping skills help address self-injury behaviors

At any point, it’s OK to seek help from a behavioral health professional.

Learning that a child is self-harming can be an alarming discovery. That’s why education around self-injury is so important, as more teens struggle with anxiety and depression and ways to cope.

Talking about self-injury helps educate children, families, and communities about self-harm in a nonjudgmental way without adding to the shame and stigma often associated with this issue.

Self-harm is known as non-suicidal self-injury, or NSSI, and is a coping mechanism or emotional release that often begins during the teenage and young adult years. It can include skin cutting, picking, and burning; punching oneself or things (like a wall); pulling out hair; and breaking bones or purposefully bruising.

Nationally, about 5% of people self-harm but rates among teens—especially teenage girls—have been reported as high as 30%.

Individuals repeat self-harming actions to numb out or punish themselves, most often driven by untreated or undertreated mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, said Adrienne Adams, M.D., medical director at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus.

Treating those mental health challenges through specialized programs such as the teen mood disorder program at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus can often reduce self-harming behaviors.

“We figure out what reasons are causing the self-harming, and we treat from there,” Dr. Adams said. “From a therapeutic standpoint, we’re helping them learn and use healthier coping strategies for when they’re upset.”

To do this, Rosecrance clinicians use dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which helps teen clients practice emotional regulation, mindfulness, and grounding strategies. That strategy is supported by individual and group therapy, family therapy, and psychiatric care.

It’s important to start a conversation if you think a child might be self-harming, Dr. Adams said. Try to stay calm, speak from a nonjudgmental place, and start with questions that can help determine how long the self-harming has been taking place, what their intentions are, and how they’re feeling.

At any point, it’s OK to seek help from a behavioral health professional.

“Remind them you’re not mad, that you want to know how to help, that you love them,” Dr. Adams said. “A lot of times, kids don’t want to self-harm, but they’ve turned to it as a coping strategy. It’s helpful to show that you’re open to helping them get treatment and give them a safe, comfortable way to open up.”

Signs of self-injury can include unexplained injuries or cuts, sores that aren’t healing, and wearing long sleeves or pants during warmer weather or even hats to cover up. Call Rosecrance 888.928.5278 for more information or if you or a loved one are concerned about self-injury.

Get Help Now (866) 330-8729