Self-harm includes the various methods by which individuals intentionally hurt themselves, such as self-cutting, self-battering, taking overdoses or exhibiting deliberate recklessness. While self-harm is not considered a mental illness, it is a behavior that indicates a lack of coping skills and is associated with many mental illnesses.
Self-harm behaviors may include cutting, burning, stabbing oneself with various objects, scratching, hair pulling, picking scabs, biting, head banging, and punching oneself. Although these are not to be confused with suicidal behavior, self-harm behaviors are a sign of emotional distress and may be at an increased risk of feeling suicidal.
Those who engage in self-harm behaviors often try to conceal their marks (cuts, scratches, burns, scabs, scars, etc.) by wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather. A person who self-harms will oftentimes make excuses for how the injury occurred.
Often people who self-harm are doing so to relieve emotional pain or anxiety or to experience a “real” feeling to replace emotional numbness. Self-harming behaviors can be addictive due to the fact that when the body sustains an injury, the brain releases endorphins and adrenaline to help the body cope with the pain. These chemicals produce a “high,” helping to alleviate negative feelings the person may be having at the time.
Surveys suggest that at least one million people in the U.S. each year engage in intentionally inflicted self-harm. Self-harm behaviors are most prevalent in the teenage and young adult years, with college students being at a higher risk, but can occur into adulthood.
How to Help
- Ask them how they feel or if they need to talk
- Express understanding that stopping self-harming behaviors is a process and you are there to help/support them
- Remain nonjudgmental and do not make them feel guilty
- Listen carefully to what the person is telling you to help discover the underlying reasons for the self-harming behaviors
When You Should Call
If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harming behaviors and/or exhibiting any of the following warning signs, the Arkansas Crisis Center is here for you to provide emotional support and resources in your area. If someone is in immediate danger or you are unable to connect, please dial 9-1-1.
- Unexplained, frequent injuries, such as cuts and burns
- Difficulty dealing with feelings
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship problems, avoidance of relationships or changes in socialization
- Poor functioning at work, school or home