March 1st represents Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD), which is an international day dedicated to raising awareness and learning about self-harming behaviors such as “cutting” and other intentional methods of self-injury. Self-injury is more common than many of us realize. Those suffering from self-harming behaviors often hide their injuries so well that friends and family members have difficulty detecting the habit. Self-Injury Awareness Day exists to shine a light on the behaviors of self-harm that often live in the shadows and provide resources to those who need assistance and support.
The Vicious Cycle of Self-Injury
Self-harming behaviors are impulsive acts of cutting or injuring oneself, often associated with premeditative thoughts and negative feelings. Typically, if an individual refrains from inflicting self-injurious acts, he or she will obsessively think about self-injury. When an individual engages in self-harm, he or she expects to gain relief from negative emotions or create a positive feeling toward a personal issue that makes him or her feel low. However, after injuring oneself, an individual often feels shame, guilt, or significant distress which can lead to a vicious cycle of repetitive self-harming acts. Our Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Dr. Helen Littrell says, “All forms of self-harm should be taken seriously, and everyone should know that there is help available to assist in the reduction or discontinuation of self-harm behaviors.”
A Time to Pause & Reflect
Self-Injury Awareness Day is a time to pause and consider the dangers of this behavior, which is far too common and hidden throughout society. Due to the shame and stigma surrounding self-injury, many people experiencing self-harm are hesitant to reach out for help. This makes it essential for friends and family members to recognize the signs and symptoms of self-injury, as well as learn how to approach self-harming individuals with compassion rather than judgement. It is important to understand that self-injury is a method some people exercise to manage emotional pain and distress. When someone feels that they cannot express themselves with words or other coping mechanisms, they may feel that self-harm offers short-term relief for unhealed or recurring pain.
Dr. Littrell suggests, “For people who are worried about a loved one who is self-harming, it is important not to panic or overreact. Show that you are open to whatever conversation the individual needs to have. This may look like letting someone know you are there for them; being empathetic, understanding, and non-judgmental; and demonstrating honesty. You may offer to help find them support, but make sure that your loved one is in control of how much they share with you and the next steps they need to take.”
Self-injury can take on a variety of forms, including cutting, scratching, punching, binge drinking, or ingesting chemicals. Individuals can self-harm anywhere on their body, but most injuries occur on the arms, wrists, thighs, and stomach, where wounds can be easily hidden. Self-injury is often an indicator of serious emotional distress but is not a mental disorder in itself. Behaviors of self-harm and injury can become addictive, especially because long-term self-injury does not resolve the issues creating the pain that drives individuals to want to harm themselves.
Signs of self-injury may include:
- Unexplained scars, cuts, burns, or bruises
- Inability to handle intense emotions
- Issues at work, home, or school
- Poor self-esteem
- Excessive rubbing or scratching of an area to create a rash or burn
- Having sharp objects on hand
- Wearing long sleeves or pants in hot weather
- Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
- Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsiveness, or unpredictability
- Vocalizing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
Self-Injury Is an Expression for Help
In majority of cases, self-harm is not an act of suicide. However, if left untreated, the underlying causes and behaviors of self-injury can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. While it can be difficult for self-injuring individuals who self-injure to reach out for help, there are many resources and alternative coping methods to help those struggling seek help to avoid or reduce self-harming behaviors. Dr. Littrell shares, “Some people will feel better just knowing they have someone to talk to, and others may benefit from professional help to process underlying causes of their emotional pain.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with self-injury or self-harming behaviors and needs immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255. At Diversus Health, we offer non-judgmental counseling services that can help uncover underlying causes of self-injury and increase use of alternative methods for coping with emotional distress. Contact us at (719)-572-6100 to learn more about how we can help or schedule an appointment with us to get your journey to recovery started today