Signs of Self Harm in Teenagers and Young Adults

Authored by Helen Parson

Edited by Alexander Bentley

Reviewed by Michael Por

Self Harm in Young Adults and Teenagers

 

As its name suggests, self-harm in young adults and teenagers refers to a situation where you harm yourself. People usually do this to let out their emotional pain, anger, or frustration. Others also do it to stop feeling numb or have a sense of control. It can also be a means to:

 

  • Express something that they don’t know how to put in words
  • Distract themselves from traumatic memories
  • Have something they can rely on
  • Punish themselves for how they feel or what they have been experiencing
  • Create an opportunity to physically take care of themselves
  • Express suicidal ideation without taking their life

 

Forms of Self Harm in Teens

 

While some people self-harm in the same way over and over again, others combine several different ways. These may include:

 

  • Scratching
  • Piercing and cutting with sharp objects
  • Carving out symbols/words on the skin
  • Burning  with matches/lit cigarettes/heated knives
  • Hitting/punching/banging head
  • Inserting objects under the skin
  • Pulling hair
  • Poisoning
  • Under/overeating
  • Biting
  • Abusing alcohol and drugs
  • Over-exercising, especially when injured
  • Intentionally getting into fights, particularly those we know will hurt us
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior

 

Complications associated with self-harm

 

Over time, self-harm can lead to further complications like:

 

  • Fatal injuries
  • Infections
  • Disfigurement or permanent scars
  • Increased feelings of shame and guilt
  • Worsening of untreated mental health issues and disorders

Prevention of Self Harm in Young Adults

 

If you want to reduce the chances of someone you love self-harming, you can:

 

  • Identify people at risk and offer to help them – if you know someone who is at risk for self-harm, be there for them and discuss healthy coping methods with them
  • Help them expand their social network – this can help them feel less lonely and form healthier relationships, especially with people who don’t self-harm
  • Encourage anyone who is struggling to seek help – encouraging someone dealing with trauma or mental health disorders to seek help can keep them from the self-harm path
  • Warn them about media influence – when already vulnerable people consume media with portrayals of self-harm, they can be influenced to self-harm

 

When it is you who are struggling with thoughts of self-harm, you need to find ways to keep yourself safe. So when you feel that urge to self-harm building, here are a few things you can do in the moment instead:

 

  • Focus on your breathing and do some breathwork
  • Take a walk
  • Do some gentle exercise
  • Talk to a friend or family member
  • Hit a pillow or a cushion to release some tension
  • Tear up a newspaper or magazine
  • Hold an ice cube
  • Stroke a pet
  • Run cold water over your wrists
  • Bite down a lemon
  • Write your thoughts and feelings in your journal
  • Play some music – consider singing or dancing along
  • Create a self-soothe box – this should have things that will calm you down and distract you from what you’re feeling

Changes that can make things easier

 

Interestingly, there are some small changes you could make to your life to put you in a good mood and keep self-harm thoughts at bay. These include:

 

    • Be kind to yourself – treat yourself as you would your best friend if they were struggling
    • Drink enough water and get enough sleep
    • Rest when you need to – don’t overwork yourself
    • Practice gratitude every day – write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for every morning
    • When using social media, keep track of how it is affecting your mood – embrace positive content and stay away from negative content

 

Seeking Professional Help for a Self Harming Teen

 

If you’ve been self-harming or are thinking of doing it, seeking professional help can be a game-changer. Simply talking to your family doctor can get the ball rolling – they can refer you to mental health professionals that can assess your situation and get you started on treatment.

 

In cases where you believe you have a life-threatening injury, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number. If you’re thinking of committing suicide, immediately call the suicide hotline in your country. In the US it’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – they can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

How to support loved ones who are self-harming

 

The first way you can support a loved one who is struggling with self-harm is by validating their feelings and being understanding and compassionate to their plight. The love and reassurance you give your loved one during this time can help them respond better to treatment. Other ways you can make life easier for your loved ones include:

 

      • Removing items they may use to self-harm from the home. These may include razor blades, needles, and pencil sharpeners
      • Identifying patterns that precede their self-harm and intervening when they present themselves. A common pattern among teenagers is that they isolate themselves after a tough day at school before they self-harm
      • Ensuring all the medications in the home are hidden or locked in a cabinet

 

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