Perhaps you’ve noticed marks on the arms and legs of the teenager in your life and you are concerned that they have been harming themselves. Self harm is a preoccupation with directly and deliberately hurting oneself, and it often results in visible damage 7. For example, some of the common methods of self harm include cutting, burning or hitting.
Self-harm is particularly an issue among teenage girls. Girls between the ages of 14 and 17 are four times more likely to be hospitalized for self-harm than boys 7. Girls are more likely to cut themselves while boys are likely to burn or hit themselves.
Self-harm is different from suicide, in that the intent is not to cause death. In fact, often the purpose of self-harm is to distract from or avoid suicidal impulses. It serves to offset the feelings caused by stress or trauma. Self-harm can help to release pent-up feelings such as anxiety or anger. Also, those who are feeling “numb” due to depression or trauma may hurt themselves simply to feel “something”.
Sometimes self-harm can be a form of self-punishment, or a way for the person to communicate their emotional pain — especially if they display their wounds to others. Although the direct intent is not to cause death, self-harm can often escalate into suicidal ideation.
A study found that nearly half of all people who self-harm have reported at least one suicide attempt 7.
Since self-harm carries the risk of escalating into suicide, it’s important to assess anyone who self-harms as a suicide risk.
Fortunately, self-harm is treatable. There are many resources available out there and methods such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy have been successful in eliminating the impulse to self-harm.