Self-harm, which is also commonly referred to as self-injury, describes a number of behaviors that are undertaken with the intention of hurting oneself. Common types of self-harming behaviors include cutting or burning one’s skin, pulling out one’s own hair, and purposely breaking one’s own bones. Other forms of self-harm include biting or scratching oneself and ingesting dangerous substances. Though some people who engage in self-harm also think about or attempt suicide, self-harm in itself is not a suicidal action. Some people engage in self-harm as a way to punish themselves for perceived deficiencies, while others do so as a means of exercising a modicum of control when they feel that the rest of their lives are beyond their ability to influence. Self-harm can be a symptom of several mental health disorders, including but not limited to borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
At Southcoast Behavioral Health, we have extensive experience in helping people overcome the disorders that may prompt a person to engage in self-harm. Our comprehensive approach to treatment involves a thorough assessment of each person who heals with us to ensure that we identify all distressing symptoms and address the underlying disorders that may be responsible for those symptoms.
Helping a Loved One or Family Member Get Treatment
Discovering that someone you care about is engaging in self-harm can be a particularly disconcerting experience. But if you know or suspect that such behavior is occurring, it is essential that you take appropriate steps to ensure that your loved one gets the help that he or she needs.
Though your loved one may deny the behavior or become obstinate or argumentative when you attempt to discuss your concerns, you cannot allow yourself to be dissuaded from addressing the matter and determining the type of treatment that is called for. Talking about self-harm will not put ideas into your loved one’s mind, or encourage him or her to take more dangerous measures. In fact, though he or she may initially resist or appear to resent your efforts to talk, he or she may actually be relieved that someone has noticed and cares enough to address the matter.
It is important to remember that, although it can be troubling and dangerous, the self-harm itself is not the complete problem. In most cases, self-harm is a symptom of a mental health disorder. Thus, your goal should not be merely to stop your loved one from hurting himself or herself, but to get the professional help that can identify and address the root cause of this and other negative behaviors.
Compassion alone cannot cure a mental health disorder. For that, effective professional intervention is the answer. But your love and support can be integral to your loved one’s continued health. Before, during and after he or she is in treatment, your willingness to be an active positive presence can make the difference between relapse and successful long-term recovery. Depending upon the specific issue or issues that your loved one is experiencing, recovery may be a long and challenging process. Leave no doubt in your loved one’s mind that you will be beside him or her every step of the way.
Why Consider Treatment at Southcoast
Failing to get proper treatment for an individual who is engaging in self-harm exposes that person to two types of danger: the damage that can occur as a result of the self-harm itself, and the additional detrimental outcomes that may result from failing to address the underlying disorder(s) that caused the self-harm. As noted earlier, self-harm is neither a suicide attempt nor a definitive sign that the person in question will attempt suicide at a later date. But, depending upon the type of self-harm that a person chooses to engage in, he or she is at risk for both immediate and long-term health damage, including death. For example, someone who engages in cutting may be at immediate risk of experiencing major blood loss, while over the long-term he or she may suffer from potentially life-threating infections. And the longer a person continues to harm himself or herself, the more likely he or she is to experience guilt, shame, and diminishing self-esteem. The physical, psychological, and spiritual damage that can both cause and be caused by self-harm can also threaten to undermine a person’s efforts to complete his or her education, secure and maintain gainful employment, and meet the other responsibilities that are parts of living a successful independent life.