Is Your Teen Self-Harming? Here's What You Need To Know

The National Institutes of Health says that 19% of girls in the 9th grade hurt themselves intentionally. Self-harm, also known as self-mutilation, is a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible to find the underlying causes and reasons for the behavior. Here's what you need to know if your daughter (or son) self-harms. 

Teens self-harm to manage negative emotions and feelings

While it can be difficult for parents and loved ones to understand, some people who are experiencing extreme negative emotions find that hurting themselves is a way to escape the emotional pain they are feeling. The pain of the self-inflicted injuries allows them to have something else painful to focus on in hopes that the emotional pain will be diminished, at least to some extent. 

Self-harm can be addictive, which makes the urges difficult to control

Self-harming has been found to be addictive. The reason for this is because endorphins are released when the body feels pain. These endorphins can actually make your teen feel better, even if just temporarily, by giving them a sense of relief and calmnessā€”feelings they have trouble experiencing due to the intense emotional pain they feel. The endorphins and the seemingly positive feelings attributed to endorphins is why self-harm can be addictive. 

Self-harm is not a mental illness, but it is a symptom

Self-harming is not considered a mental illness. However, it can be a symptom of one. Mental illnesses that can cause someone to self-harm include PTSD, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and depression. Sometimes, people simply do not have the coping skills that are necessary to deal with negative emotions and feelings, regardless of the ultimate underlying cause. Therefore, it is crucial to have a proper diagnosis of the underlying cause(s) of the self-harming behavior so new coping skills can be learned and treatment can be effective. 

Treatment takes time and commitment 

Treatment will take time. Your teen needs his or her family and a team of mental health professionals to help them overcome the underlying cause(s) and stop self-harm. A psychiatrist may prescribe medication that can help, depending on the diagnosis. However, these psychotropic medications often need to be adjusted several times in order to find the right medication and dosage. Counseling and therapy sessions are equally important, particularly because your teen will learn new coping skills to deal with their PTSD, anxiety, depression, or other mental illness so they no longer want to harm themselves. 

For more information on treatment for teens, contact a center such as Lifeline.