Cutting, burning, mutilation.
Self-injury is scary. It’s scary for parents, teachers, siblings, therapists (yep us too), and the self-injurer. I’ve been working with adolescents and teens for over 13 years. Unfortunately, I’ve worked with many who self-injure. A few boys, but mostly girls.
What is self-injury?
Mayo Clinic defines it as “the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself.” Self-injury is not usually a suicide attempt. I have worked with kids that self-harm and have had suicide attempts. These are very different acts. Self-injury is the person’s way of coping, an unhealthy way but a way to cope nonetheless.
Maybe you talk it out or journal when upset (healthy coping skills) or maybe you drink or overeat (unhealthy coping skills). For a person who self-injures, the act of self-harm is how they manage feelings.
If you find out someone you care about is self-injuring, what should you do? First, the person needs to be evaluated by a professional to make sure it is not suicidal in nature. In the area I live, Behavioral Health Response 314-469-6644 or www.bhrstl.org can come to you home for an evaluation. It’s a great resource.
Secondly (or really in conjunction with the first step), don’t panic, don’t shame, and don’t blame. The person is in need of help and support. Let her know you care and are concerned. Let her know that what she is doing can really hurt her and that you want to support her obtaining help.
Thirdly, do some research and find some support for you (if you are really close to the person). As I said before, this is scary. It is scary to see marks, scars, blood, etc on a person and then to find out that the injuries are self-inflicted, causes stress for many. NAMI.org is a great resource for both information and local support. Also, Safe Alternatives is an excellent program (it’s the model I follow with clients). Check out selfinjury.com
Lastly, know that the person can get better. It takes time and hard work but remission is possible.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.