Self-injury, sometimes referred to as self-harm, is intentional, non-lethal behavior that causes physical injury to your body. March 1 of each year is Self-Injury Awareness Day, which leads into Self-Injury Awareness Month. The day and month serve to draw attention to the struggles of those affected by this condition. We, Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, wanted to bring some educational information on Self-Injury.
What Drives a Person to Self-Injure?
Self-harm is an attempt to relieve intense emotional pain that has become overwhelming. While the action may distract the sufferer from that pain briefly, it doesn't actually resolve the emotions or address their underlying causes. As we explain at our community mental health center, it is an unhealthy coping mechanism that may calm a people by giving them a sense of control and the ability to see a connection between the physical pain and what is causing it, as opposed to emotional pain, which can be harder to pinpoint.
The most common forms of self-injury include:
- Burning or branding
- Excessive body piercing or tattooing
- Picking at skin or preventing wound healing
- Consuming dangerous substances
Self-injury is a behavior that is not limited to any particular demographic — age, race, socioeconomic level, religion or education level. However, according to WebMD1, it is more common among:
- Adolescent females
- People who have a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- People who have co-existing problems of substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder or eating disorders
- Individuals who were often raised in families that discouraged expression of anger
- Individuals who lack skills to express their emotions and lack a good social support network
Self-harm tends to be a solitary behavior and one that sufferers generally attempt to conceal. While it is not suicidal in nature, the risk of suicide exists if the underlying emotional stress becomes too great or if an attempt to self-injure goes too far.
Identifying Self-Harm and How to Talk to Someone Who is Self-Injuring
If you 1) see a friend or loved one self-injuring, 2) notice signs of unexplained injury, or 3) detect attempts to hide injuries, the most important thing to know is that self-injury isn’t a “phase” or an “attention-seeking” behavior. It is a symptom of an emotional problem that must be treated.
If you suspect a loved one is self-harming, you should:
- Talk with them about it as calmly as possible. Appearing alarmed or angry may cause them to withdraw.
- Be nonjudgmental and supportive.
- Be available to discuss the problem or problems that are causing the emotional pain that leads to self-injury if/when they are ready to talk about it.
- Explain that there are treatments available at your community mental health center. Offer to help with making an appointment and attending with them if appropriate.
- If the person’s behavior worsens and you believe they are contemplating suicide, seek emergency medical attention/intervention immediately.
Getting to the Heart of Self-Injury
At the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we help people who are self-injuring understand and address the issues that are causing them emotional pain and leading to the behavior. If you or someone you know needs to talk with someone about self-harm, contact the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.