When someone who self-harms asks for help, some will say, “It’s okay,” or “It’s just a phase, you’ll get over it.”
It’s not okay.
It’s not just a phase.
When a person harms himself, he is experiencing a hardship in his life that he is trying to overcome. Nobullying.com states that self-injury origins go as far back as Biblical times when Jesus stumbled upon a man suffering from what was thought to be demonic possession. The man was described as “always, night and day, in the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out, and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:1-20).
Self-harm is not a definite precursor to suicide, but it can lead to suicide or a suicide assessment, according to Cindy DiBucci, McDowell Intermediate High School SAP Mental Health Counselor. About 70 percent of teens who self-injure have attempted suicide at least once, states TeenHelp.com.
“Teenagers and adults may self-harm for many reasons from depression, anxiety, stress or grief,” DiBucci said. Self-harm can be a way one copes with issues going on in his life. Ways people can self-harm include: cutting, impacting oneself to the point of bruising or bleeding, ripping skin, or burning.
According to TeenHelp.com, one-third to one-half of U.S. teens have engaged in self-injury, which might make this behavior feel like a pandemic.
Sometimes people don’t understand why someone would do this to his body, but friends and family can help.
A person struggling with self-harm can see a professional counselor. “Speaking to a professional will allow the individual the opportunity to express and possibly work through some of the things that are bothering them,” DiBucci said. “It also helps to offer new ideas and builds more positive coping skills.”
“Respect that self-harming is a private, personal thing,” DiBucci said. “It should be treated with respect and dignity.”
Quitting self-harm can be difficult. Professionals try to help the person “learn new coping skills and new ways to replace their negative behaviors with positive options,” DiBucci said.
When you first hear about someone hurting himself, immediately go to a parent, trusted adult, counselor or doctor no matter what the person says. “Self-harming behavior is a lot to take on as a friend or family member,” DiBucci said. Sometimes the person will say, “I will never talk to you again,” but you do not know how extensive the teen’s intentions are. In terms of the life of a friend, there is no such thing as an overreaction.
Professional help can also be found through hotlines. In Erie, Pa., Crisis Services can be reached 24/7 at (814) 456-2014. DiBucci suggested that teenagers can also go to studentsafeline.org for help.
If you know someone who self-harms, show them support by reminding them, “You’ll get through this,” or “I’m here for you.”
It is often instinct to say to someone who is hurting, “I know how you feel,” but each person going through self-harm has different experiences. When someone claims that you don’t know how he feels, the person isn’t pushing you away, but you truly might not understand what he has experienced. Try saying, “I don’t know how you feel, but I’ll be here if you need to talk.”
If those who self-harm receive the help they need, the behavior can stop. A McDowell student who prefers to stay anonymous and formerly engaged in self-harm said it gets better, and “it’s not worth scarring yourself when years from now you’ll have a family of your own and people who care about you.”