friends holding hands and talking about self-harm

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm, also known clinically as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), is when someone hurts themselves on purpose. While cutting is the most well-known type of self-injury, this practice can take many forms. Some people will burn themselves, pull their hair, pierce their skin, pick at wounds, or hit themselves.

Self-harming behaviors are not necessarily suicidal; instead, they are a way to cope with negative emotions and are typically brought on by emotional distress. While some people may only self-harm on a particularly distressing occasion, for others these behaviors become routine and they often require mental health care to stop.

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Signs and Symptoms of Self-Harm

Self-harm is more common than many people realize. According to one study, 17% of adolescences have engaged in non-suicidal self-injury at least once. While this number drops to about 5% in adults, someone you know may still be practicing self-harm without you realizing it.1 Because many people try to keep this practice a secret, the signs of cutting and self-injury may not be easily recognizable, but self-harm is often a cry for help.

If you suspect your loved one could be engaging in self-injury, some common signs of self-harm to look for include:

  • Unexplained scars, wounds, bruises, or scratches
  • Scars or scratches in patterns or all in the same area
  • Wearing long sleeves or more conservative clothing to cover injury marks
  • Weak excuses about injuries or claims of being accident-prone
  • Having bruises that will not heal
  • Missing patches of hair
  • Being defensive about injuries
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exhibiting lack of self-worth
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Mood swings
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or shame
  • Reckless behavior

If someone you love is exhibiting these self-harm symptoms, you should take action.

 

What to Do if Someone You Love is Showing Signs of Self-Injury

While self-injury may not be connected to suicide, it can still be dangerous. Not only can these injuries be serious at times, but also they may be comorbid with a variety of behavioral health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. Without proper behavioral health treatment, these conditions may not only get worse but could also lead to other issues.

Because of these possibilities, if your loved one is showing signs of self-harm it is important to try to get them help. While confronting them may be awkward, it may be necessary. Tell them that you are concerned about them without berating or judging them. You want to stay calm throughout the conversation and give them a chance to be able to speak freely and feel heard. Most importantly, you should encourage them to get help and remind them that healing is possible.

At Vertava Health, we want to be here for you and your loved one. Our outpatient mental health treatment programs could be what your loved one needs to stop practicing self-harm and start healing. Contact us today to learn more. We are here to listen.