Hurting yourself, also known as self-harm is the deliberate injury to one’s own body. This injury may be inflicted to relieve unbearable emotions, sensations of unreality and numbness, or for other reasons. Self-harm can be associated with mental illness, trauma, or abuse.
Other Names and Terms: hurting yourself, self-hurt, self-harm, self-injury (si), self-inflicted violence, self-injurious behavior, self-mutilation, self-poisoning, deliberate self-harm, hair pulling, ingesting of toxic substances, nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI)
Trends concerning Self-Harm: Because self-harm trends are on the rise in the United States, parents, guardians, youth workers, and children should be aware of trends related to the topic. They should also be prepared to discuss them. The following trends are important to remember:
- Recent data indicate that approximately 7% of middle school youth, 15% of high school students, and almost one third of all adolescents referred for clinical treatment engage in self harm.
- Cutting seems to be the most common form of self-harm among adolescents, but many other strategies for harming oneself without an intent to die also are reported frequently (e.g., hitting, burning, etc.).
- Self-harm is used as a way to relieve extreme emotional distress.
- Male and female adolescents equally are likely to engage in self-harm behaviors, and recent research suggests that some adolescents may engage in the behavior somewhat publically.
- Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that suicide rates were gradually decreasing in the 1990s, but have since leveled off and are actually increasing among females. And while the rate of suicide is almost four times higher in males, some data suggest that females are more likely to think about, plan, and attempt suicide.
- Males are more likely to use a firearm, while females resort to poisoning as their primary means.
Key Points of Discussion: Parents, guardians, youth workers, and friends are ideal to help understand and deal with issues involving self-hurt. Listed below are key points that might be useful in discussing self-hurt:
- Respond to the child without judgment. Children want to feel safe and respected in all aspects of their lives, especially when they choose to communicate their feelings. Children want to have the security of knowing that their adults will not think, act, or feel differently about them as a result of the feelings they are sharing. Take the time to listen attentively and give positive and appropriate feedback. Remember, them choosing to communicate will be a huge step for them.
- Get professional help. Immediately, seek professional help if the child expresses thoughts about hurting himself/herself. If you are in an emergency situation where you cannot wait to schedule with the appropriate health care professional, take the child to the nearest local emergency room. It is better to be safe, and it might take a health care professional to help the child cope and get to the root of the issue.
- Model appropriate coping skills. You are your child’s first teacher, and you teach them a lot of lessons (even if you don’t mean to). Always model appropriate coping skills for any given situation.
- Be a positive role model, avoiding violent and unhealthy behaviors. If you are angry, count to ten. Take the time to process and think about situations before you react (journal or have quite time).
Talking to Children: Use the following tips to discuss the topic of self-hurt with your children.
- Check in with children about their feelings, and encourage them to share(especially if something different or unusual has occurred in the home). Have different ways that children can share their feelings (drawing a picture, writing a story, playing with toys, etc.).
- Let them know that their emotions are normal. Encourage them to express their emotions in a normal safe environment.
- Discuss appropriate and inappropriate reactions and coping skills for emotions.
- Active involvement with children will assist them in focusing on their feelings and energies. Arts and crafts activities, cooking together, and playing board games will help you stay connected to your child. Staying connected, talking to them, and letting them know that you care and are available will allow you to intervene and provide support, if necessary.
- Be honest and open to all conversation topics dealing with self-harm. Ask your school’s counselor, intervention specialist, or pediatrician if you need help.
Risk Factors and Warning Sings: Risk factors and warning signs may be used to identify children who are more at risk for self-hurt than others.
- Talking about wanting to die or looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Previous Suicide Attempt
- Problems with school or the law
- Unexpected pregnancy
- A stressful family life. (having parents who are depressed or are substance abusers, or a family history of suicide
- Stress due to new situations; college or relocating to a new community
- Failing in school or failing to pass an important test
- A serious illness or injury
- Seriously injuring another person or causing another person's death (example: automobile accident)
- Major loss...of a loved one, a home, divorce in the family, a trauma, a romantic relationship