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Self Harm Awareness Month

shutterstock_186626057Stress in our society is a problem that evades no person. Stress comes from outward pressures like work or school and inward triggers such as appearance, illness or expectations. As adults, we have hopefully learned healthy ways to cope with our stress. We exercise, talk to a friend or see a therapist. But when stress pervades an individual, the life experience or resources to manage the tension on their own aren’t available to them. They may seek any way they can to manage their anxiety. Unless they turn to a trusted adult for help, this can manifest is a variety of harmful ways such as eating disorders, withdrawing from relationships and even self-harm.

Self- harm by definition is deliberately harming your body but without the intention of suicide. This most commonly is cutting but includes burning, scratching, hair pulling and ingesting toxic substances. This behavior is most common in teens and young adults but can occur in any age group, including the elderly. The motivation for self harm could be a variety of reasons including a need for acceptance amongst peers, pressure to succeed, and being unhappy. Essentially the self harm gives the person a sense of control and helps lessen emotional pain. When the person cuts him or herself, the body releases endorphins in response to the injury. These endorphins are intended to help with the pain of the cut but as a side effect, they help manage distressing emotions. Much like a drug, these hormones become addictive and more injury is sought out to continue the emotional relief. Self harm often escalates once it has started.

Contrary to some common myths, self harm in not an attention seeking behavior. Most people who self harm are often self conscious and withdrawn. Also, while self harm may indicate depression or anxiety, it doesn’t mean someone is “crazy” or dangerous. It is merely a coping mechanism. Common signs of self injury include frequent “accidents” and signs of injury on the person. Also, wearing long sleeves all the time during warm weather can be an indicator, as they are trying to hide the evidence of the injuries.Isolation, irritability and behavior out of character for the person are also clues that something is going on. All of these are good reasons to investigate further.

When it is discovered that a person is harming themselves, the first step in treatment is psychotherapy. A qualified therapist will be able help the individual work on issues causing the self harm and learn healthy coping strategies so that when the stresses return they can manage it properly. Ultimately though, the person has to want help. When a person who is self harming refuses help or can’t break the cycle, inpatient care is required. This offers close supervision and intensive therapy to help the patient.

If you are concerned that your child may be harming themselves, visit http://summitcounseling.org/help-for-my-child/teens-and-college/ for information on how Summit Counseling can help.

The Summit Counseling Center
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