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Letter to the Editor: Know the Facts About Self-Harm

Written By Editor on 3/29/14 | 3/29/14

Editors Note: Self-harm is a very real threat facing millions of people in this county and the facts and signs described in this letter by Ms. Weightman should be heeded by all friends and families concerned of their loved ones. 

Dear Editor,

March is National Self-Harm Awareness Month.  Self-harm (or self-injury)  is an all too common method used by some to manage their feelings, deal with stressors or anxiety, and/or  to help a person to bring himself/herself out of a state of feeling numb.  Self-harm can take many forms, but is always an unhealthy coping mechanism that can be replaced with new, safe skills and increased social supports.  Secrecy, shame, and guilt often accompany self- injury- leading people to suffer in silence and furthering a vicious cycle of continued self- harming behavior.  It is important to have accurate information about what self-injury is, to dispel myths, and to know what resources are available to treat the issue and support those trying to recover from a pattern of self-harming behavior.

Self-injury is defined as deliberate, repetitive, and non-lethal behaviors that are aimed at alleviating emotional pain or distress.  Self-harm can encompass a range of behaviors, including cutting oneself with a sharp or jagged object or tool, burning, scratching, head-banging, picking scabs or interfering with wound healing, punching self or objects, bruising oneself, or breaking bones.  Self-harming behavior often begins as a behavior that someone uses to regain  emotional control in their lives- allowing for a physical expression of the turmoil they feel inside , but can easily become  ritualistic, compulsive, and no longer within that individual’s control.  

But why would someone hurt themselves on purpose?  People who engage in self-injury do so for a variety of reasons. Many report feelings of loneliness, anxiety/fear, emptiness, detachment, anger, feelings of self-hatred or worthlessness, guilt, etc.  For some,  self-harming harming acts as a temporary reprieve from stress and anxiety they are experiencing.  For others who may struggle with feelings of emptiness, emotional detachment and numbness; the self-injury and pain lets them feel SOMETHING and reminds them that they are indeed alive.; the brain also releases endorphins –chemicals that are thought  to “soothe” people.   The relief, however, is temporary.  Feelings, stressors, conflicts come back, and so does the urge to self-harm. A self-destructive pattern often develops without intervention.

There are many myths and misconceptions about self-harm, so it is important to have the facts.  Taboos and misconceptions can get in the way of you or someone else getting the help they need.  Let’s explore some commonly held myths and discuss the facts.

Myth: People who self-harm are just trying to get attention-talking too much about it will just them make them do it more.

Fact: People who self-harm often do it in secret.  People carry an immense amount of fear, shame and guilt about the behavior.  Talking about it is the first step to that person feeling connected to someone else and opening the door to more healthy coping strategies.

Myth:  People who self-harm are trying to kill themselves.

Fact:  The majority of people who self-injure do NOT want to die.  They are trying to cope with their emotional pain.  In fact, for many it is the only way they have found to go on living.  However, self-injury is closely linked with depression and a higher risk of suicide, which is why it is so important to seek help.

Myth: A person has to be “crazy” or dangerous to cut or hurt himself/herself on purpose.

Fact:  Many people who self-harm suffer from depression, anxiety, and/or a history of trauma-just like millions of others in the general population.  Many have a history of sexual and/or physical abuse. A trigger, such as conflict, or remembering a traumatic event can lead a person to utilize self-harm as a way of coping with the feelings.  It is estimated that approximately 1% of the population engages   in self-injurious behavior. 

Myth: Only teenage girls cut- and they will grow out of it.

Fact:  Although the prevalence of females who self-harm is higher than in males, there are boys who engage in self-harm as a way of managing their feelings.  Self-harm often begins in puberty, but without treatment can persist into adulthood.

Self-injury can be hard to detect, but there are some signs, or “red flags” to look for if you are worried about someone you care about:

Unexplained cuts, bruises, scars-often on wrists, arms, thighs, or chest
Sharp objects or cutting instruments in a person’s belongings- such as razors, knives, tacks, or safety pins, needles, glass shards, etc.
Frequent “ accidents” used to explain away chronic injuries, cuts, or bruises
Covering up- insisting on wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts even in hot weather
Isolation and irritability, spending time alone for extended periods of time ( especially in bedroom or bathroom)
Frequent blood stains on clothing, towels, bedding, or blood-stained/soaked tissues

If you or someone you care about is struggling with self-harming behavior there are resources, supports, and professional treatment available.  Connecting with a support network and ending the secrecy that often accompanies this behavior can be a big step in regaining control over self-harm.    For more information visit:

SAFE (Self Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives

The help and support of a professional may also be needed while a person is working to overcome the cycle of self-injurious behavior.  A therapist can assist a person in identifying roots and triggers, communicating assertively, and managing emotions through healthy coping strategies.  Your local mental health clinic will have information on service providers and treatment options in your area.

Shannon Weightman, LCSW-R
Staff Social Worker
Schoharie County Mental Health Clinic

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