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Adults Need to Be More Informed About Self-Harm

The first time I cut myself, I had the same thoughts cycling through my brain. “You’re a loser. Nobody likes you. You’re worth nothing.”

I don’t know if a certain event set off my anguish or if it was just another depressive episode. Either way, I retreated to my “Woman Cave.” I felt instant relief, as weird as that sounds. I was in so much mental and physical pain from depression, and all I wanted was to feel something else. Anything else. This is called self-harming.

By definition, self-harming or self-injury is the deliberate act of harming your body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It is not intended to be a suicide attempt. Usually, people tend to self-harm when they’re experiencing overwhelming emotions and don’t know any other way to cope. Research shows that self-injury occurs in about 4 percent of adults in the U.S., according to Mental Health America. The most common methods of self-injury are cutting (70 to 90 percent), head banging or hitting (20 to 40 percent) and burning (15 to 35 percent).

Obviously, this isn’t a “healthy” way of coping, but I understand all too well the need to escape intense pain and doing anything that might make you feel better, however temporary that is. But evidence shows that over time, those emotions, along with guilt and shame, will continue to be present and may even worsen, according to Psychology Today.

The roots of self-harming behavior can sometimes be found in early childhood trauma, including physical, verbal or sexual abuse. It’s also an indication of serious mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or borderline personality disorder. I had zero childhood trauma, but do have major depression and anxiety. It’s important to note that self-harm occurs most often in teens and young adults (I was in my early 20s when I started self-harming). Data shows that 17 percent of adolescents have self-harmed at least once. Just reading that overwhelms me.

This is an issue that we can’t just skip over. Every adult needs to be educated on the warning signs, symptoms and treatment. Early intervention is crucial when it comes to mental health. Failure to respond to this behavior when it firsts starts could lead to a lifetime of mental pain, and I definitely don’t recommend that. I was lucky that I only had a few instances of self-injury. Some get addicted to hurting themselves or develop other hurtful behavior to help cope. Fortunately, this is something that can be treated and people can make full recoveries from. Here are some symptoms of self-injury, according to Mayo Clinic:

  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Frequent reports of accidental injury
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness

Warning signs/risk factors:

  • Unexplained frequent injuries including cuts and burns
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty handling feelings
  • Relationship problems or avoidance of relationships, and
  • Poor functioning at work, school or home

If you are suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.