March was Self-Injury Awareness Month, which is a time reserved each year to increase awareness of teenage self-injury, and help teens who suffer from this harmful compulsion to feel supported enough to seek help.
While March is a month dedicated to awareness and support for those practicing self-injury, this is a condition that can impact your teen any time of the year. As the parent of a teenager, you undoubtedly want your teen to be safe and healthy as they continuously grow and mature toward adulthood.
Here are three questions about self-injury that you should know how to answer so you can make sure your teen is living a safe and healthy life, and is not inflicting harm upon themselves:
- What is Self-Injury?
According to the Mayo Clinic, self-injury is the non-suicidal act of purposefully and repeatedly harming your body through some type of mutilation. This condition can present in many forms, such as:
- Cutting slits into the surface of the skin, and drawing blood
- Burning the skin with lighters, matches, or cigarette butts
- Punching or hitting yourself
- Picking at skin to the point of bleeding
- Drinking harmful liquids such as paint, glue, or bleach
- Pulling large portions of hair out of the head
- Excessive exercise or starvation attempts
- Excessive alcohol or drug use
Teens who self-injure often do so to achieve an emotional release from feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, or rejection. While self-injury is not an attempt at suicide, it can have lasting mental and physical health implications is left untreated.
- What are signs my teen might be hurting themselves?
Due to feelings of fear or shame, most teenagers will not usually come forward or seek help for their self-injury habit. However, there are some signals and symptoms of this harmful disorder that you can know and recognize to help keep your teen safe from themselves, and intervene should you discover they are harming themselves.
According to the National Health Service, these are the most common signs of self-injury:
- Unexplained burns, cuts, bruises, or scabs on the body (particularly on the wrists, arms, legs, and stomach)
- Patches of missing hair that look to have been pulled out
- Wearing long sleeves, even in hot weather
- Loss of interest in school, family, or friends
- Depression or self-loathing
- Self-blame and expressions of feeling inadequate or unworthy
- Unusual weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- How can I help my teen if I suspect they are practicing self-injury?
If you begin regularly noticing any of the symptoms of self-injury, it is important to intervene and try to help your teen immediately. Mental Health America suggests the following things you can do to help your teen if you think they are purposefully injuring themselves:
- Don’t wait for your teen to come to you. Bring up the topic yourself, and express love and support for your teen.
- Listen to your teen, and encourage them to speak openly with no fear or shame.
- Let your teen know they are not alone and that they can get better, and offer options for helping them overcome self-injury actions.
While self-injury is not typically an attempt to commit suicide, teens can easily take their self-injury too far, and seriously harm themselves. It is very important that you seek professional help for your teen if they continue to injure themselves after you’ve intervened and tried to help as a parent. A professional counselor or therapist can help you both deal with your emotions, and get back to leading a healthy, safe life.