Self-Harm in Teenagers: What to Know

Self-harm, often referred to as cutting, is a complex series of behaviors and actions where people purposely harm themselves for emotional release. These behaviors can include cutting, burning, pinching, self-medicating, head-banging and hair pulling. It is estimated up to 2 million people in the U.S., including 8% of the teenage population, have consciously harmed their body in some way. Here is some helpful information to understand what self-injury is, what it is not, and what can be done to help.

Teenagers self-injure for many complex reasons including:

–          To reduce intense anxiety and overwhelming stress

–          To regain a sense of control over the teen’s body, emotions and thoughts

–          To communicate to others about the severity of their depression and distress

–          To distract themselves from unhappy thoughts and memories

–          To punish themselves for a perceived mistake

–          To break through the numbness of depression by producing feelings of pain

There are many myths surrounding self-injury with teenagers. Often people believe teenagers hurt themselves to seek attention, but the vast majority of them keep it a secret. This secrecy leads to feelings of shame and sadness which in turn can cause the teenager to continue in their destructive cycle. It often comforts a teenager to know they are not alone in their suffering and will receive love and care no matter what secrets they reveal.

Self-injury is also not a suicide attempt. The sufferers use these methods to deal with the intense emotions they are feeling and are not trying to die. Though if their self-harming methods are not stopped and treated, it can sadly lead the teenager to strongly consider suicide.

There is also an incorrect stereotype around self-injury. Most people picture people who harm themselves as a white, teenage, middle-class girl, but in fact, people of all races, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and genders suffer from self-injury.

There are many treatment options to help your teenager stop this behavior. Look into a troubled teen program or troubled teen services where trained professionals will provide the right types of therapy, medication, and support to help your teenagers overcome this compulsion. With time, behavior therapy, patience and understanding, many teenagers make successful recoveries and transform their behaviors of hurt and harm into behaviors of love and happiness. 

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