The terms “self-harm” or “self-injury” are used when an individual has inflicted a deliberate injury to their own body. There are a number of reasons why someone may inflict self-injury, some as simple as just wanting attention. The other reasons are much more serious and oftentimes beyond the individual’s control. For example, the injury may be to deal with unstable emotions, or the person may be suffering from a mental illness, an eating disorder, low self-esteem, or they may have been a victim of abuse. For these individuals, self-injury treatments and medication management should be administered as soon as possible to limit further harm.
The definition of self-harm is quite broad, and it can stretch to include exterior bodily injury (e.g., compulsive tattooing) and interior (e.g., disordered eating). Perhaps, the most common type of self-injury treatment is for the process called “cutting.” Cutting is when someone uses a blade to cut thin, non-lethal lacerations on their body as a way to cope with their feelings. The cuts are typically made on the arms, legs, inner thighs, and abdomen.
It’s important to understand that most cases of self-harm are not a reflection of a suicidal person, although, for the outsider looking in, it may look like it is. Self-harm is a coping method used by some people to relieve their unbearable emotional pain or discomfort. Successful self-injury treatments have to be able to manage the emotional and physical aspects of the condition.
Signs of Self-Harm
People who commit self-harm may try to conceal their scars or injuries by wearing baggy clothing or body-covering clothes like long-sleeved shirts and pants. If their injuries are discovered, they will typically offer an alternative explanation as to how they occurred. The individual will also avoid swimming in the summer and act guarded when changing clothes.
Who is at Risk?
Teens are at high risk of inflicting self-harm as they tend to have difficulty managing their emotions. Some of the most common cases involve those who have been raised in an environment that discourages the expression of anger. Other scenarios that place teens at high risk include the loss of a parent, peer pressure, childhood abuse, or troubled relationships.
People with various types of mental illness are also at risk. Self-harm can be a direct result of someone’s internal battle with depression, eating disorders, or phobias. Additionally, people who are suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse are also at high risk for self-injury.
Treatment of Self-Injury
The difficult thing is that it can become an addiction over time. As such, it is often treated just like any other addiction, i.e., through therapy, medication, and hospitalization. Some treatments include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Family and group therapy
- Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
If the patient has a secondary addiction, like drugs or alcohol, then treatment in a dual diagnosis facility is recommended. Dual diagnosis programs feature physicians and staff personnel specially trained for managing the care for a person with multiple health concerns. When looking for a dual diagnosis treatment facility, be sure to choose one that is licensed by the respective state.