Every year, there are nearly 2 million cases of self-harm reported across the U.S, primarily among youth. March is self-harm awareness month in the U.S., and we want to help put an end to the stigma surrounding self-harm.
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is defined as deliberate, non-suicidal actions intended to cause physical injury to the body. We don’t define self-harm as suicidal behavior, but continued self-harm over a period of time can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Causing self-harm creates instant relief for emotional pain. People who are suffering from self-harm have often performed it because they just want to feel something. They want to feel like they are in control of something when it seems like everything else around them is out of their control. This physical pain tends to be easier to deal with than the emotional pain behind something such as a traumatic or tragic event in their life.
Self-harm doesn’t discriminate. The desire to cause it occurs in men and women, people young and old, across races, and with people of multiple belief systems and worldviews. Anyone can end up in a position where self-harm feels like one of their last options. Healthy Place cites that one in five women and one in five men will perform self-harm in their lifetimes. Nine out of 10 cases of self-harm also begin in adolescence around age 14 and may continue into one’s 20s. The biggest reason for the stigma against self-harm is gender based since girls are more likely to engage in it and earn the (inaccurate) reputation as “attention seekers.”
Helping Someone who is Harming Themselves
As with many mental health disorders, there are dos and don’ts when approaching a friend or loved one, if you believe they’ve been harming themselves. When it comes to the don’ts, we never want to dismiss the problem as just a “phase” or fad the person is going through. Directing anger towards them only makes the person feel further alienated and will keep them distanced from any attempts to help them. A person suffering from self-harm will find any way they can to cause the harm, so hiding sharp objects isn’t a strategy for seeing positive results.
There are several things we can immediately to help someone in a positive manner. Staying calm in everything you do is the first step. Like we mentioned above, showing anger or frustration will only cause them to push away from you. Just talk with them. Ask simple questions that don’t convey judgment, such as, “Do you know why you chose to hurt yourself?” Understand their mindset. Take every answer seriously from the person. Help them seek treatment – but understand that it will ultimately happen on that person’s timeline and that they need privacy during the recovery process.
It’s important to remember that just because someone has started treatment for self-harm, it does not mean that things will suddenly be OK again. When we treat mental health disorders, we see very quickly that they are deeply rooted in emotions and underlying problems in that person’s life. Ultimately, breaking the stigma of self-harm is all about trusting the person. The person is much bigger than the self-harm they are suffering from, and they deserve every opportunity to be heard as an individual and have their needs and wants considered during treatment.