By Atevure Princess
Globally there have being increasing number of young adults harming themselves in ways that are more and more life threatening. Self harm is called different things such as self-injury, self-inflicted violence, deliberate cutting, self-abuse and even more extreme terms such as parasuicide (literally translated to mean near/resembling suicide) and self-mutilation; however it is personal to what you wish it to be called.
It is a common myth that people who self harm are suicidal or attention seeking. Most self harmers are not trying to gain attention, quite the opposite as it is a very private experience and most sufferers will try and hide their scars, bruises and marks. In order to fully understand what induces people to self harm, it’s important not to only focus on the self harm itself but the reasons behind it in the first place, it’s only when the root causes are addressed, it will be difficult to address the predisposing factors to self harm.
It is possible to overcome the urge to hurt oneself. In other for us to avoid the most serious effect that self-harm can have on people, which is Death resulting from life threatening injuring, there is the need to take a critical look at what self harm?
What Is Self Harm?
Self-Harm (SH), according to Wikipedia, is defined as, ‘the intentional, direct injuring of body tissue, done without suicidal intentions. These terms are used in the more recent literature in an attempt to reach a more neutral terminology. A school of thought also defines Self-Harm as, “the practice of cutting or otherwise wounding oneself, usually considered as indicating psychological disturbance.”
The most common type of self harm is cutting off arms with Sharp blades, knife or other instruments, other types of self harm are burning oneself (typically with cigarettes butts) banging the head against the wall, interfering with the healing of a wound, pulling out hair, or eating or drinking poisonous substance.
Types of Self Harm:
It is commonly associated with cutting (with any sharp object such as razors, knives, scissors, pins etc.) but this is just one of the many forms. Other types of self harm are: burning, picking at skin, biting, pulling hair out (Trichotillomania), hitting/punching yourself, scratching, small overdoses, poisoning, excessive nail biting, sticking things into your body, swallowing inappropriate objects, banging your heads or throwing your body into something hard.
However, it is not self harm when the primary purpose is body decoration, sexual pleasure or spiritual enlightenment (e.g. ritual).
Who and Why Do People Self-Harm?
Self-harm is much more common among girls and teenagers. Research shows that the most common age group for self-harm is 15-19 year olds, although some children may start to self-harm as young as 11.Self-harm can also be linked to other mental health conditions, such as depression. As depression can occur at any time, self-harm may affect people of all ages.
Self harm is a way of people coping with whatever is going on in their lives and gives them control over at least one thing and in some cases it might be the last thing they have control over. No one will know why someone self harms, and in some cases even they do not know. It can be a combination of things in their life, not necessarily one specific experience. It is seen as a coping mechanism attempting to alter how they feel by inflicting enough harm to release the body’s natural endorphins giving a “natural high”. This momentarily provides the release/experience of feelings needed/wanted which is why it is often a way of dealing with anger and stress. The feeling however is quickly replaced with the negative feelings of upset, stress, guilt, shame etc which causes the vicious cycle. In the same way a smoker will turn to cigarettes when stressed, a self harmer will injure themselves because they can become dependent on this being their method of coping mechanism.
A self harmer once shared her experience on how she started self harming in her words she stated. “I’ve been hitting and scratching myself since I was young, so I feel it’s always been a part of me. When I was 13, three years ago almost to this day, was the first time I cut myself. I had been very distressed for a long time. I was very attached to a group of friends I was in, and I knew they had all gone to a movie without me. It wasn’t the first time I felt left out from them, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
That was a terrifying night. I called my friend (one of the problematic friends) and cried my eyes out to her. And that began a long pattern and what has become a three year habit.
Prodrome of Self-Harm:
The signs and symptoms of self-harming behaviors can vary greatly based on the age of the person participating in the behaviors, their chosen form of self-harm, and the length of time in which they have been partaking in the behaviors. Some examples of symptoms that may lead to the suspicion that a person is harming himself or herself can include:
Withdrawing from peers;
Displaying signs of severe distress;
Verbally justifying unexplained bodily injuries as being attributed to an accident when questioned by friends or loved ones.
Aftermath of Self-Harm:
The effects of self-harm can be devastating for the individuals engaging in the behaviors, as well as their loved ones. Some effects that can result from these behaviors can include: Family dispute, Social isolation, Isolation from family members, Substance addiction, Delusional thoughts, Chronic negative mood states, Consistent, obsessive, and intruding thoughts about the behavior itself.
Self-injuring can also produce long-term physical effects in the person who participates in the behaviors. Some examples of these physical effects can include:
- Broken bones that don’t heal properly,
- Severe bleeding and anemia,
- Infected wounds,
- Permanent tissue damages,
- Permanent scarring that may not fade due to the presence of scar tissue,
- Chronic pain.
The most serious effect that self-mutilation can have on people is death resulting from their injuring becoming fatal. For example, cutting oneself so deep that the person bleed to death, drinking too much of a chemical substance that causes body failure, or breaking one’s neck when attempting to break a different bone.
There is no sure way to prevent your loved one from self-injuring behavior. But reducing the risk of self-injury includes strategies that involve both individuals and communities — for example, parents, schools, medical professionals, supervisors, co-workers and coaches, could educate children on the danger in self-harm behavior.
Encourage Expansion of Social Networks: Many people who self-injure feel lonely and disconnected. Forming connections to people who don’t self-injure can improve relationship and communication skills.
Raise awareness: Adults, especially those who work with children, should be educated about the warning signs of self-injury and what to do when they suspect it. Documentaries, multimedia-based educational programs and group discussions are helpful strategies to preventing self-harm.
Promote programs that encourage peers to seek help: Peers tend to be loyal to friends even when they know a friend is in crisis. Programs that encourage youths to reach out to adults may break off social norms that support secrecy.
Offer education about media influence: News media, music and other highly visible outlets that feature self-injury may nudge vulnerable children and young adults to experiment. Teaching children critical thinking skills about the influences around them might reduce the harmful impact.