Self-harm is a topic not often discussed but needs to be addressed. It happens more often than not in several age groups and by different means. The Florida Department of Health reported 12,514 total hospitalizations for non-fatal self-inflicted injuries in 2019.

A 2016 report from the health department on the 10 leading causes of non-fatal violence-related injury from emergency room departments is a shocking observation in self-harm statistics in the state. Most notable:

Children and Youth Aged 10 to 19

  • 1,389 children and youth self-harmed by drug poisoning
  • 975 children and youth self-harmed by cutting or piercing themselves
  • 284 children and youth had a non-specified self-injury
  • 270 children and youth were reported to have a “Not Elsewhere Classifiable” self-injury

Adults over age 20

  • 3,112 adults self-harmed by drug poisoning
  • 881 of those were aged 35 to 44; 804 were aged 45-54
  • 1,541 adults self-harmed by cutting or piercing themselves; 702 of these were adults aged 25-34 years old

The Florida Behavioral Health Barometer 2019 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that about 181,000 youth aged 12 to 17 struggled with a major depressive episode. The same report also notes that about 205,000 young adults aged 18 to 25 had serious thoughts of suicide. Also, 142,000 young adults struggled with a serious mental illness.

Nationwide, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Center for PTSD relays data about the number of youth and adults who engage in self-harm.Student rates for self-harm range from 13% to 35%, and adult rates range from 2% to 6%.

Self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but it does mean the individual needs intervention and mental health treatment. But before we go into that, let’s learn what self-harm is and find out why people self-injure.

What Is Self-Harm?

What Is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is when an individual hurts their own body on purpose, per MedlinePlus. Some injuries may be minor, and some can be severe. Some may leave permanent scars. The individual often covers up the scars from self-injury. This type of behavior tends to begin in the teen or early adulthood. 

The individual might engage in this behavior a few times and then stop, and others might continue doing it. While some might think self-harm is a mental health disorder, it is, in fact, a behavior. It is a way some individuals cope with strong feelings, such as worry, depression, fear, and aggressive impulses.


Causes for Self-Harm

Some people self-harm for other reasons. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) shares that people who self-mutilate frequently have more negative feelings than others. Others who self-injure might be feeling numb and want to make themselves feel something. Other causes for self-harm can be:

  • Block distressing memories or flashbacks
  • Express and release distress
  • Show they need help
  • Punish themselves
  • Hurt themselves rather than anyone else
  • Reduce anger
  • Ensure they will be protected and safe

Individuals who self-injure might have been abused as a child or experienced another type of trauma. They may also have a mental health disorder, like an eating disorder, or have low self-esteem. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that “adolescents with self-harm were far more likely to have been recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other disruptive behaviors, while young adults more commonly had substance use and personality disorder diagnoses.”

Types of Self-Harm

Self-harm can be expressed in different ways. Injuries from this act are usually hidden so that no one can see what the individual has done and are not known to anyone but the person who’s doing the self-harming. This is especially relevant when considering how many people have been admitted to emergency departments for drug poisoning. Here are the types of self-harm:

  • Cutting or piercing using objects, such as knives, razor blades, etc., sharp-pointed objects, like knitting needles, fireplace pokers
  • Burning oneself with matches, lighters, cigarettes, or candles
  • Taking more prescription medicine than the prescription requires (drug poisoning)
  • Punching things, such as a wall
  • Pulling out one’s hair
  • Purposely bruising themselves or breaking bones

Signs That Someone Is Self-Harming

While we’ve said it can be challenging to see the outward signs when someone we care about is self-harming, there are some signs to look for:

  • The individual wears long pants and sleeves, even in warm weather.
  • They make excuses about their injuries.
  • They frequently have bruises, cuts, or scars.
  • They have sharp objects around them for no reason
  • Prescription medicine bottles are missing or contain far less medicine that should be in them.

How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

It can be not easy to know how to help someone who is self-harming. You may not know what to say or do. You might even feel uncomfortable about asking the person you care about if they are in emotional pain and physically hurting themselves. Self Magazine published good advice about how to approach a loved one who engages in self-injury. It wrote:

  • Choose a time to talk to them when they are in a better mood, not when they are tired or stressed out.
  • Also, be sure you are in a positive mood when you want to talk to them.
  • Don’t be confrontational, angry, or upset when you want to talk. In other words, be as non-judgmental as possible.
  • Ask gentle questions, not accusatory ones; describe what you have observed of their wounds.
  • Express concern and ask if they are hurting themselves on purpose.
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to lessen their anguish. Invite them to talk to you about it. Listen without interrupting or offering advice.
  • Focus on what they say their emotional triggers are for self-injury.
  • Offer to support and help them seek help.
  • Let them know you are there for them whenever they ask and that it is OK if they don’t want to talk about it now.

Treatment for Self-Harm

Treatment for Self-Harm

As previously mentioned, self-harm is a behavior and not a mental health disorder. However, there is treatment for those who self-harm at Family Recovery Specialists for adolescents and adults. Treatment on our campus begins with a comprehensive assessment that will determine what you or your loved one’s most critical needs are. 

You may be a candidate for inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment. The deciding factor is how long and how severe you or your loved one has been engaged in self-injury. Our caring psychological staff works with many different behaviors and the causes behind them.

Self-harm treatment will likely include a strong complement of therapies proven to be most beneficial to individuals with behavioral problems, mental health disorders, and substance use disorders (SUDs).

The most common and scientifically proven therapies are:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): One-on-one therapy with a therapist who will help you discuss and identify your thoughts, feelings, and actions that can be harmful. You’ll learn how your emotions govern your need to self-harm. You will also learn new coping strategies that are helpful in preventing you from hurting yourself.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): One-on-one therapy with a therapist who focuses on accepting your feelings in the here and now and not on past experiences. You’ll participate in exercises that encourage you to try new skills in managing painful feelings and improve your ability to regulate your emotions, deal with negative feelings and distress, and improve communication with others.

Other therapy sessions you might be working in are family therapy, group therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, life and coping skills sessions. We at Family Recovery Specialists also offer gendered groups, if possible.

As a widely respected mental health treatment center in South Florida, we offer a range of treatment programs, which include inpatient/residential treatment and outpatient treatment. If you are directed to the inpatient program, you will stay on our campus as you work through your therapies for self-harm in an environment that is safe, secure, and comfortable. Intensive outpatient treatment is considered one of the highest levels of outpatient care where you live at home. It consists of more than eight hours of therapy every week at our center.

If you are also struggling with a substance use disorder, you may also take part in therapies that address addiction and learn new and positive methods of not abusing substances to curtail strong negative emotions. Our integrated approach in treating addiction, mental health disorders, and behavioral problems will soon set you on a sturdy road to recovery and better coping mechanisms.

Family Recovery Specialists can assist you in affording treatment for self-harm. If you have health insurance, we take many of the major carriers’ plans. We also want to mention that it’s a good idea to review your plan thoroughly to find out what it covers.

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