Self-harm is one of the most misunderstood epidemics among teenagers today. Teenagers are often stereotyped as moody, emotional and overly dramatic, which only trivializes their pain. It is hard for some adults to understand the hardships facing teens today, but life’s stressors and pressure from both academics and a teenager’s social life can often be too much to handle if the individual is not equipped with adequate coping skills. Treating struggling teenagers as though they do not have problems when they do only exacerbates their feelings of worthlessness and depression.
Deliberately inflicting physical pain on oneself is an act stemming from intense emotional pain and it is a cry for help. It is not, however, an attention-seeking ploy or something that should be disregarded or trivialized. Since the act itself is considered shameful and bears the unfortunate stigma of mental illness, individuals will go to great lengths to keep their acts of self-harm secret. Warning signs include cuts or burns on the skin, making excuses for these marks or injuries and keeping razors, scissors or knives in strange places (e.g. under a pillow). Another sign that can indicate there is a problem is if the individual starts wearing uncharacteristically large, baggy clothes to hide marks from self-harm. This is especially suspicious during hot weather when more skin would typically be shown.
Most teenagers who engage in self-harm are not looking to end their lives, but rather put an end to their emotional pain, anxiety and stress. Those who use self-harm as a release find that it brings these uncomfortable feelings to a manageable level. When an individual partakes in self-harm the physical pain becomes a more real, tangible feeling to handle. This relieves the individual’s emotional pain, even if just for a moment, when it becomes too much to handle. Others tend to dissociate from their physical body when dealing with emotional pain and the act of cutting, burning or otherwise harming their body allows those who self-harm to reconnect with their body and feel grounded.
It is difficult to determine how many teenagers practice self-harm as it is a very secretive act. Most of those suffering do not tell anyone. However, it is believed that the practice is more common in pre-teen and teenage females than males. That being said, anyone can suffer from extreme emotional pain and turn to self-harm as an escape.
In addition to the debilitating emotional pain that leads to self-harm, the act itself is a very isolative behavior that forces a person to lie and keep secrets rather than be discovered. It is difficult for those who are not suffering to understand that, though individuals who engage in self-harm go to great lengths to keep it a secret, they want help and know they need it. Most teens secretly want someone to find out and help save them from themselves. Sadly, they are so good at hiding their pain that many go undiscovered.
Teenagers who resort to self-harm as a coping mechanism do so when they feel they have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. If a loved one is practicing self-harm, it is important to understand that it is not anyone’s fault, however, there are steps friends and family members can take to help them. On a basic level, they can validate his or her feelings. If the teen feels heard and recognizes his or her pain is acknowledged, then it can greatly reduce the teen’s need to self-harm as a form of release.
Different forms of treatment are available, all of which include developing alternative, healthy coping skills to replace self-harm and any other existing harmful behaviors.
Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego facility is a treatment center for teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and behavioral problems. This facility is fully equipped to help you or your loved one who is suffering from self-harm and any co-occurring conditions. Call 866-615-7266 for more information today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer