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Self-harm is an uncomfortable reality that many parents of youngsters will face. How do you know if your child is hurting themselves? What can you do to help? Read on to find out more information about warning signs of self-harm and what you can do.

Hearing about youngsters engaging in self-harm is becoming more common and it’s a very real problem and recognized issue in schools. This behavior should never be dismissed or minimized as "attention seeking", because when someone hurts their body it’s a sign of something being very wrong.  Knowing the danger signs of self-harm and how to react to them, will save lives and make it easier to identify when a young person you know could be in real trouble.

What Is Self-Harm?

Self-injury is also referred to as self-harm, and it is the act of deliberately hurting or harming oneself. The most common types are cutting or burning the skin and it is typically not meant as an attempted suicide. Rather, self-harm is an unhealthy manner to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration.

While self-harm might bring the person a bit of calm and can be a tension reliever, it is usually followed by an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame.

It provides only temporary release and soon the painful emotions return. Along with self-harm comes the chance of more grave and even lethal self-harming activities. Because people engage in self-harm impulsively, it is considered to be an impulse-control behavioral problem. Self-harm could be linked to a wide array of different mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, borderline personality disorder and/or depression.

Symptoms Of Self-Harming

There are many signs and symptoms of self-harm and the most common ones include the following:

  • Scars, which could be from cutting or burning the skin
  • Broken bones
  • Fresh cuts, gashes, bruises and/or other unexplainable sores and wounds
  • Keeping sharp instruments on hand
  • Puncturing the skin with a sharp object
  • Head banging
  • Pulling out one’s own hair
  • Persistently picking at or poking at an open wound that delays healing
  • Biting
  • Becoming withdrawn or seeming depressed
  • Wearing long sleeves to hide cuts or wounds on the arms, even when the weather is very hot
  • In school-aged youngsters, they may try to look for an excuse to avoid wearing shorts or short sleeves and avoid activities such as swimming and physical education

Most often, the arms, legs and front of the torso are the most common areas targeted for self-harm, because they can be easily reached and hidden under clothes. However, any area of the body can be used as a site for self-harm. People who engage in the behavior may use more than one part of the body and more than one method to hurt themselves.

What Causes Self-Harm?

There is no simple way to describe what causes someone to engage in self-destructive behaviors. There are many reasons someone could turn to self-harm and it is usually due to the person’s inability to cope and function with psychological pain in a healthy manner. Sometimes a person could be hiding feelings of anger, panic, rejection, inadequacy, worthlessness, loneliness, self-hate or a plethora of other issues.

If a person participates in self-harm it may be that they are trying to do the following things:

  • Feel a sense of control over their body, feelings and/or life in general
  • Manage or alleviate some type of severe distress or anxiety and to provide a sense of relief
  • As a form of distraction from painful emotions
  • It provides a person with the ability to feel “something” when feeling empty or devoid of any emotion
  • Express suppressed or internalized issues in an external way
  • As a means of relieving the symptoms of depression
  • To be punished for some sort of perceived faults
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