How much do you know about self-harm? If you have a personal history of self-harming, then it’s likely that you look for signs of it in your teen. If your knowledge of it is exclusively limited to what you’ve seen on the big screen or in the media, you may have a few questions about it.
The more you understand this behavior and its motivations, the better you’ll be able to help your teen if you recognize that they are engaging in self-harm behaviors.
An understanding of self-harm
One of parents’ first concerns is that self-harming is a precursor to a suicide attempt. Understanding that studies have pointed to the idea that self-harming does not necessarily point to an individual having suicidal ideation is imperative.
It is also important to note that self-harming can take on several forms. It is not always the way it’s portrayed in movies and on television shows.
Some of the most common examples of self-harm could include the following:
- Burning or cutting of the skin
- Drug or alcohol misuse and abuse
- Excessive exercise
- Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
- Poisoning themselves with chemicals or medication
- Marking the skin in ways other than burning or cutting
A teen could opt for just one method or may use a few at a time. Those who self-harm often go to great lengths to hide their behaviors and any resulting marks, injuries, or scars. You may find them wearing long sleeves during the summer or looser clothing to disguise themselves.
Why do teens self-harm?
For many of us, the idea of deliberately harming ourselves seems like a terrible idea. Why would an otherwise physically healthy person seek to hurt themselves in one way or another? The truth is that there is no one answer to this question. Like many mental health conditions, this is a multi-layered problem.
Here are some of the most commonly seen reasons for self-harm:
- Trouble expressing challenging feelings and emotions
- Feeling a loss of control of many areas of their lives
- Difficulty expressing emotional distress
- Being the victim of a bully
- Struggling with sexuality
- Being the victim of physical and other types of abuse
- Loss of someone close
Teens don’t always know how to best cope with the things that they are feeling or experiencing. They may also struggle with one or more mental health concerns such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) or depression. There are links between depression and anxiety, and self-harming.
Is self-harming dangerous?
Deliberately causing injury to your body can bring with it a series of potential dangers. There is, of course, the potential for going too far when cutting or ingesting toxins. In addition to the mental turmoil, there are a few dangers to be aware of:
- The risk of infection
- Excess bleeding that is difficult to stop
- Extensive scarring
- Damage to internal organs
- Eating disorders can bring with them long-term health concerns
Self-harming is painful. But for many teens, it’s a way of finding control and releasing some of the overwhelming internal pain they are feeling.
Can you prevent self-harming?
Many parents don’t recognize that their teens are self-harming until it has happened for some time. You may wonder if there were any proactive steps that you could have taken to keep your teen from self-harming.
In short, no. However, if you recognize that your teen is struggling and showing some of the signs of mental illness, you can take steps to intervene and get them the help that they need. In some cases, you may be able to intervene with suitable types of therapies before your teen is driven to self-harm.
Steps to take
Whether you suspect your teen is self-harming or you have evidence that they are, these steps can help to lead your teen in the right direction:
- Safety needs to come first. Remove anything from the home that your teen may turn to if the self-harm impulse takes over.
- Get professional help right away. The sooner that you get your teen into therapy and a treatment program, the sooner he or she will be able to begin to recover.
- If you suspect your teen has ingested something harmful, get immediate medical help.
- Speak honestly and openly with your teen to reassure them that you care, love them without condition, and are there to listen and help.
- Encourage more family time and allow your teen to have a say in your family’s activities and the meals you enjoy together.
There is no one easy fix to help your teen. Help will involve treating the underlying cause of the self-harming behavior and continuing to offer your teen the mental health and emotional support that they need.
Coping tips for teens who self-harm
Above all, your teen needs help from professionals who have experience working with adolescents and self-harming behaviors. Through the treatment programs with these professionals, your teen will learn the most effective methods of coping and fighting the compulsion to hurt themselves.
There are still several ways that you can help your teen with the essential coping skills that they need as they start to recover and heal. You can do many things with your teen so that they don’t feel as alone:
- Introduce your teen to relaxation techniques and mindfulness
- Encourage listening to music or watching a favorite show to distract a swirling mind
- Go for a walk or get outside and ride a bike
- Text or call a friend or member of the family so that they are not alone
- Use a journal to write out and express how they are feeling versus acting upon those feelings
- Lean on other creative methods as a positive outlet for overwhelming emotions
Remind your teen that they can always seek you out and spend time with you when they don’t want to be alone. Perhaps you can go for a hike or a bike ride together to get out of the house and try to escape some of those overwhelming emotions. You could cook dinner together or bake up a batch of cookies. Most importantly, your teen feels supported, loved, and not judged or ridiculed.
If your teen has been engaging in self-harm behaviors, it’s time to get them the right type of mental wellness treatment. At HelpYourTeenNow we can provide concerned parents with the right resources to help their teens get their mental health back on track.