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Self-Injury: What Is It? What Signs To Look Out For? What To Do?

For many the concept of self-injury is a foreign one. I only know about it because I once knew someone who did it regularly. I remember trying to find information on it and resources for help. It was such a taboo topic at the time; it still is. That's why it is so important to have observances like today's Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) with the objective to educate on self-injury/self-harm.

When we think of the words self-harm, we usually think suicide, but there is a wide spectrum of self harming, most of which remains unseen except for those very close to the person. The term is used when someone intentionally and repeatedly harms themselves in a way that is impulsive and not intended to be lethal. The young lady I knew always wore long clothes in an effort to hide her scars. Self-injury includes, but is not limited to:

  • Cutting or Severely Scratching their skin,

  • Bruising,

  • Burning or Scalding Themselves,

  • Biting,

  • Hitting themselves or Banging their Head,

  • Sticking objects into their Skin,

  • Intentionally preventing Wounds from Healing

  • Other more harmful methods: Ingesting Poisonous Substances or Inappropriate Objects.

Self-harm can also include less obvious ways of hurting yourself or putting yourself in danger, such as driving recklessly, binge-drinking, taking too many prescription drugs, or having unsafe sex. The person I knew nicked herself with razor blades, knives or any sharp object she could find. The act is a form of escape from the pain they feel, where the self harm method is used as a means to relieve tension, stress, feelings such as anxiety, sadness and numbness etc. It is a cry for help from someone who is in serious emotional distress and trying to find a way to cope with their feelings. Very often, those who self-harm often do not reach out for help because they are afraid of the reaction of others who may see them as "insane." They therefore prefer to remain suffering in silence.

While self-injury is mostly found in teens, it can be found in adults as well. It is also generally found in young females but can be found in all genders. With the world being lockdown due to the pandemic, the uncertainty, stress and fear, as well as, the isolation has led to increase in cases being reported. It is important to look out for signs of maladaptive coping mechanisms like self-harming in order to get assistance, such as:

  • Avoiding social situations;

  • Wearing loose or ill-fitting clothing even in very hot weather;

  • Finding razors, scissors, lighters or knives in places where they do not belong;

  • Multiple cuts, burns or scars on the wrists, arms, legs, hips, or stomach especially in a pattern;

  • Always having an excuse for having cuts, marks or wounds on the body;

  • Blood stains on clothing, towels, or bedding; blood-soaked tissues;

  • Spending long periods locked in a bedroom or bathroom;

  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships;

  • Behavioural and emotional instability, impulsivity, irritability and unpredictability;

  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness;

  • Poor functioning at work, home and/or school.

If you are having thoughts of self-injury or have injured yourself, reach out for help. Talk to someone you trust, such as a friend, loved one, doctor, spiritual leader, or a school counselor, nurse or teacher, who can help you take the first steps to successful treatment.

If someone you love is engaging in self-injury, take a deep breath and treat them with empathy and compassion. It is important to give them a safe place to express their thoughts and feelings. I know it is scary but anger, impatience and judgement will trigger them further. Seek out professional help as soon as possible. You can call your local hotline or contact a therapist to receive further assistance.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.

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