Understanding Self-Injury: Causes and Warning Signs

February 26, 2021


Self-Harm Is More Common Than You Think

Self-Injury Awareness Day on March 1 each year shines light on a behavior that often lives in the shadows – well-hidden by those suffering and difficult to detect by friends and family members.

On average, self-harm begins at age 14 and, there’s no doubt about it – the teenage years can be difficult for everyone. However, sometimes parents realize that the moodiness associated with coming of age may be more than just the typical teen angst, and self-harm, also known as non-suicidal self-injury, is unfortunately more common that you might think.

One recent study suggests that as many as one in five children between 10 and 18 years old are engaging in intentional self-harm.  Lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are more like to self-harm than their heterosexual counterparts, and Cornell and Princeton University researchers report that 17% of college students have cut, burned, carved or wounded themselves in some way. Sadly, fewer than 7% sought mental health care for underlying causes. Males and female have comparable rates of self-injurious behaviors and those who begin in the teen years are likely to continue into their late 20s.  But why?

Why would anyone intentionally hurt themselves?

This type of behavior is understandably baffling. Typically, people who self-harm do so as a way of alleviating some emotional distress they are experiencing by channeling their internal pain into external pain. Some report feeling so emotionally numb that the pain can be a mechanism to elicit feeling anything at all. For others, physical pain is a distraction from their emotional turmoil, and for all, it’s a cry for help.

While there may be several underlying reasons for this type of behavior, one thing is consistent: it’s a clear sign that it’s time for professional intervention. Self-harm is a high-risk behavior that if unaddressed can result in permanent scarring, disfigurement, and accidental death.

What can I do if I suspect someone I know is injuring themselves on purpose?

First, know the signs to look for.  These include:

  • Suspicious/unexplainable cuts, wounds, or scars
  • Multiple wounds in the same place on the body
  • Collecting or frequently carrying lighters or sharp tools such as razors, nail clippers, safety pins
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts in warm weather
  • Wearing a lot of band aids
  • Bloody tissues or bandages hidden at the bottom of trash cans
  • Isolating
  • Refusing to let you see their arms, legs, or other parts of the body that are normally exposed

When these behaviors are present, it’s time to schedule an evaluation to ensure proper help is received. Start with a call to the compassionate staff of Cottonwood Springs for consultation and assessment for adults 18+.

What can I expect in treatment?

After an assessment by a licensed clinician, and based on identified clinical needs, a care plan will be recommended, which may be an outpatient therapy program. These programs center around group talk therapy, family sessions, and individual counseling, when needed. Ask about virtual therapy that makes important mental health care accessible and convenient. Prior to completion of therapy, the care team coordinates an effective aftercare plan for continuation of necessary mental health maintenance care. 

There’s hope. There’s help.

Delivering exceptional mental health care that changes people’s lives is our mission and what we do every day. If you or someone you love is self-harming, call now to schedule an appointment and discover the path to self-care and improved mental health.