Self-harm is a coping mechanism that many people turn to for relief. It is most common among teens, but can impact anyone. That is why behavioral health organizations like Rosecrance recognize Self Injury Awareness Month each March.
According to the American Journal of Public Health, about 17 percent of American teens have engaged in non-suicidal self-injury behaviors such as cutting skin, punching, head banging, or burning. These behaviors are increasingly leading to emergency room visits, particularly during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw insurance claims for intentional self-harm among teens nearly double and then stay elevated through the first year.
In comparison, about 5 percent of adults self-harm.
Many clients who seek residential treatment at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus have experienced self-injury at some point in their lives. The behavior tends to be most common among those who have experienced bullying, trauma, and depression.
“No matter whether it’s an adolescent or adult, this provides a sense of relief from problems instantly, even though it is temporary,” said Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Clinical Director Jason Relle. “It is harmful, but readily available and works for the intended purpose to numb or shock the system into feeling again.”
Relle suggests that concerned loved ones watch for signs such as unexplained injuries or cuts, unexpected hiding body parts by wearing long clothes in warm weather, more frequent isolation, or increased depression.
If someone might be harming themselves, the most important thing to remember is to watch your emotions. Because of the outward signs, it is tempting to focus on the harmful behavior, and that may lead the person to feel judged or stigmatized for their internal and external struggles.
“It can be difficult when you see blood or scars, but you want to stay as calm as possible and hear what the individual has to say,” Relle said. “Be truly present with them so they can feel safe enough to process the situation with you. Just being there in the moment will mean the world to them.”
When the individual is ready to consider treatment, be fully supportive throughout the process. Treatment will help the person address underlying issues and equip them with positive coping skills that will help them overcome negative behaviors.
“Life experiences have to be processed and worked through, but with appropriate treatment and therapy, their lives can absolutely be changed,” Relle said.
If you or a loved one are concerned about self-injury, Rosecrance’s caring Access team is available to talk with you. They can be reached by calling 888-928-5278.