For some people, severe emotional and psychological pain can drive them to physically hurt themselves. Because it is such a widespread problem, March is recognized as Self-Injury Awareness Month to bring attention to the issue.
Self-injury or self-harm, sometimes known as “cutting,” is an intentional, predominantly non-lethal way people struggling with mental health issues sometimes manifest their intense and stressful emotions.
Self-injury can also be a form of distraction or temporary relief from the psychological turmoil they’re experiencing.
For almost 20 years, mental health organizations like Life Signs and others have designated March 1 as Self-Injury Awareness Day. It is the start of a month-long push to raise awareness and create understanding for people suffering from issues of self-harm and self-injury.
To raise awareness of self-injury, some people write “LOVE” on their wrist or wear an orange ribbon.
According to data published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), just under 17 percent of people will engage in some form of self-harm during their lifetime.
This study found that the most common reason people hurt themselves is for “relief from thoughts and feelings.”
Teenagers are at the greatest risk for issues of self-injury, with the average age a person starts this type of behavior being around 13 years old.
Some of the most common ways people self-harm include:
- Carving, cutting or embedding objects under the skin
- Repeatedly hitting or banging the head
- Hair pulling, not just on the head, but also on the arms and legs
- Burning the skin with lighters or cigarettes
- Beating, pinching or bruising
- Picking at wounds, making it difficult for the healing process
- Consuming dangerous substances
Though a person might harm themselves anywhere on the body, the hands, arms, wrists, thighs and stomach are frequently the sites of self-injury.
Intentionally injuring oneself is more common than many people might think, but because it carries such stigma and shame, those struggling with these problems are often likely to hide their wounds.
The perception is that younger, white females are most likely to self-harm, but the American Psychological Association (APA), reports that as many as half of self-harm victims are men.
Self-harm issues show up among all races and socioeconomic levels, although sexual orientation may play a factor. A greater number of gay and bisexual males along with females admit to issues of self-injury.
This doesn’t mean it only happens to these demographic groups, but they are the ones most open to discussing it.
What are the Signs of Self-Harm or Self-Injury?
It can be particularly difficult for friends and family to notice issues of self-injury right away, simply because cuts, nicks, bumps and bruises are just a fact of every day life for everyone.
This is especially true for teens and young adults who are active in sports and other activities.
However, it’s important to pay attention especially when a person has suffered from or is currently having mental health issues.
Signs that a person is engaging in self-harm may include some of the following:
- Sudden withdrawal from friends, family and activities that they normally enjoy
- The presence of unexplainable injuries – burns, cuts, bruises, scabs, etc. – on a recurring basis
- Wearing concealing clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, pants or coats even when it’s warm inside or outside
- Having a seemingly prepared story for injuries
Treatment for Self-Harming Behavior
It’s critical to understand that self-injury is actually a symptom of a larger mental health condition. Anyone who is harming himself or herself needs their injuries to be examined by a physician as well as seek treatment for their mental wellbeing.
There isn’t a specific treatment for self-injury or self-harm, as most treatment protocols are focused on the underlying issue that is causing the self-harm, such as depression, stress, anxiety, or others.
Fortunately, many of the mental health concerns can be managed through some of the following:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Meditation and mindfulness training
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Medications like antidepressants
These types of therapy can be helpful for improving mood and focus, as well as learning how to break free from toxic mental health habits.
Friends and loved ones can play a critical role by not criticizing a person struggling with self-harm, and instead by listening, showing compassion and helping them reach out for professional help.
During the month of March, taking the opportunity to learn about the issues of self-injury and self-harm.
Understanding the underlying causes that can lead to this type of behavior, as well as the warning signs that it might be occurring, may just help someone who has been suffering in silence.