Saturday, April 20th, 2019

Teens and self-harm - warning signs and more

Posted: Friday, February 20, 2015

Kelli Woll, LMHC, Huntington Bowen Center

What is self-harm?
Self-harm includes anything you do to intentionally injure yourself. Some of the more common ways include: Cutting, picking, or severely scratching your skin; burning or scalding yourself; hitting yourself or banging your head; punching things or throwing your body against walls and hard objects; sticking objects into your skin and intentionally preventing wounds from healing.

Who self-harms?
One in five teens say they have purposely injured themselves at some time; it is common in both girls and boys but girls are more likely to seek help; self-harm usually begins between the ages of 14 or 15 but is becoming common with Junior High students. Self-harm affects all ethnicities, ages, and income levels. A history of sexual and emotional abuse has been reported by over 50% of self-injurers. Low self-esteem is common among self-injurers.

Why do they self-harm?
Release the pain and tension they feel inside; distract themselves from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances: a way to punish themselves; make them feel alive, or simply feel something, instead of feeling numb; poor body image; being bullied or discriminated; not knowing how to deal with stress; an unresolved history of abuse; low self-esteem; feelings of loneliness or fear; a need to feel in control; mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder; wanting to get the attention of people who can help them; peer pressure/curiosity and they lack healthy coping skills. It’s important to remember that each teen that cuts is different and not all start or continue for the same reason.

What are the warning signs?
Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or stomach. Makes excuses for injuries or scars if they are discovered. Always wears long sleeve shirts or pants even in the summer. Wears wide wrist bands often to cover up scars or recent cuts; claims to be clumsy or have many mishaps to explain away injuries; often withdraws and wants to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bathroom or bedroom; will develop signs of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or changes in mood and can be angry or easily irritable.

What should you do?
Never over react; stay calm; don’t lecture, judge are get angry; be supportive and listen; do not ignore the behavior, and refer them to a doctor or therapist.

If a teen begins to confide in you, you should listen to their story without judgment. Every teen has a story to tell.  They just need someone to listen.