Self-harm (aka self-mutilation or self-injury).
Self-harm can be defined as any type of intentional injury to your body. This is usually a behaviour done in private and that can include acts such as:
- biting your own flesh
- burning your own flesh
- banging your head against an object
- picking at your skin
- excessive tattoos or body piercings
- breaking your own bones
- hitting yourself with an object
- pulling your own hair
- re-opening old wounds
- overeating or under eating
- deliberately drinking poisons
- scratching at your skin.
Alcohol and drug abuse can also be viewed as a type of self-harm behaviour. There is also a link between self-harm and suicide (about 60 per cent of people who commit suicide have a history of self-harm), but suicide is not a type of self-harm unless it was unintentional.
Symptoms of Self-Harm
Those who engage in self-harm can be good at hiding their injuries or providing convincing explanations for what happened, but there will usually be signs that this is going on, such as:
- unexplained (or vague reasons for) injuries, cuts, burns, abrasions, or unusual marks on the skin
- isolating from others
- symptoms of depression
- alcohol or drug abuse
- low self-esteem
- always wearing clothing that covers the body
- unexplained hair loss
- becomes tearful easily
- sudden weight gain or weight loss.
Self-Harm and Addiction
Substance abuse can be a form of self-harm; it is common for those falling into addiction to engage in other types of self-injury. Even after the person has given up alcohol or drugs, they can continue to engage in self-harm behaviours in times of high stress. It is therefore vital that anyone who has a history of self-harm gets appropriate dual-diagnosis treatment.
Causes of Self-Harm
There is no one reason why individuals end up engaging in this type of behaviour, but it is often an attempt to make physical some type of emotional pain. The person may be feeling completely overwhelmed psychologically, even though they appear as normal on the outside. The self-harm is therefore an attempt to make this suffering more apparent. This type of behaviour can also be a way of coping with trauma and those engaging it in can experience a sense of relief every time the act is committed.
Self-harm is also common with those who are suffering from mental health problems such as schizophrenia or psychosis. The person may hear voices that are telling him or her to engage in self-harm, so they can feel compelled to follow this advice.
No matter what the cause of self-harm, it is vital that individuals who engage in it receive appropriate treatment.
Treatment for Self-Harm
There are things that a person can do as soon as the urge to self-harm arises:
- this urge tends to arise when the person is alone, so one of the first things to do is find other people to be around – or at the very least, call a friend on the phone
- distraction can be effective until the urge passes
- some people find that journaling about how they are feeling can help them overcome the urge to self-harm
- the most important thing is to tell others how you are feeling.
In order to properly treat self-harm, it is vital to get to the root causes of it. If you are dealing with an addiction as well as a tendency to self-injury, you will probably benefit from dual-diagnosis treatment; this means the substance abuse and self-harm can be dealt with at the same time. You might also want to speak to your GP about the problem. Many effective options for treatment are available such as cognitive-behavioural therapy. If the self-harm is due to an underlying mental health problem, this can be treated as well.