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The real truth behind self-harm: Ways to support a self-harmer

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Many find it difficult to understand and discuss self-harm. It is a serious and deadly issue that calls for attention. Self-harm refers to the practice of intentionally injuring oneself by cutting their skin, punching objects or oneself and giving up on suicide in extreme cases. It’s how people with emotional pain turn into a physical scar.

There are many reasons why someone indulges in self-harm. Lack of the skill to manage distressing emotions such as worthlessness, loneliness, panic, anger, guilt, rejection and self-hatred, doubt about sexual identity, etc. can lead to self-harming behaviours [1]. It can also be a way of punishing oneself, seeking attention, releasing the tension, impulsive responses to intrusive thoughts or being in control [2]. Some may also use it as an escape mechanism to run from traumatic memories.

A person can self-harm at any age. However, it is more common during the preteen and teen years, when teenagers are going through many transitions and experience high stress. According to Intentional Self-harm in Children and Adolescents: A Study from Psychiatry Consultation Liaison Services of a Tertiary Care Hospital, 6%-27% of adolescents intentionally injure themselves. Female teenagers are the most susceptible demographic, with self-injury rates approaching 24%. Also, statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) highlight deaths due to suicide in 2021 have reached 1,64,033 - a 7.2% increase compared to 2020. This rate is 10% more than the COVID-19 deaths and 6.8 times higher than maternal deaths in the same year. Also, India’s suicide rate has increased from 10.2% to 11.3% per 1,00,000 population in the past 3 years.

Below are some of the key emotional triggers for self-harm:

  • Bullying at school or work

  • Work and academic stress

  • Termination from the job

  • Arguments between family members

  • Relationship or friendship problems

  • Low self-esteem

  • Mental health issues such as Anxiety and Depression

  • Intimidation or abuse

  • Confusion with sexual or gender identity

  • Health problems or illnesses

  • Loss of a loved one

If you are concerned about someone who is self-harming, they might fall into one or more of these categories, it has to be taken seriously and professional help should be provided.

Why should an individual seek professional treatment for self-harm?

If left untreated, self-harmers with undiagnosed mental health problems will only worsen with time. It is an ineffective coping mechanism to deal with underlying triggers that evoke feelings of pain, guilt, or shame. Manoshala offers creative therapies through art, music, drama and body movement. Our experts will help in channelising emotions in healthy ways through doodling, sketching, body tapping, lyrics writing, role-play activities, storytelling, etc. Book a 15-minute free pre-screening call to discuss what weighs your mind and heart.

Here's what caregivers can do:

  • Educate oneself: As a caregiver, be informed about the emotional and psychological reasons behind self-harm through books, blogs and articles. It will give you the theoretical knowledge, dos and don’t for dealing with self-harmers

  • Create a positive environment: Stick posters with inspirational and positive content around the person's house to create an environment of optimism

  • Hold a safe space: In addition to the physical environment, offer a non-judgemental safe space to help them share their feelings, concerns and worries

  • Track their emotions daily: Use a bullet journal or an online tool such as Notion to note how they’re feeling at various points in a day. Objective tracking will help the caregiver to track the progress

  • Remind their strengths: Remind them what you admire and like about them often and encourage their natural talents or activities that come with ease

  • Encourage socialization: Caregivers can cheer up the recovering self-harmer by throwing small house parties with close-knit friends, motivating them to join a gym, take a new course, begin journaling, etc.

  • Teach forgiveness: In the event of a relapse, they might be harsh on themselves. Hence, caregivers need to teach them about self-forgiveness and moving on after a minor setback

  • Seek support: Caregivers can also find it challenging and face burnout. So, seek therapy for yourself and encourage self-harmers. Put forth how therapy can help manage difficult emotions once they’re comfortable to open up and share what their issues are. Do not force therapy unless they’re willing to try. If you’re a caregiver to your loved ones, it is hard to practice self-care and prioritize oneself, which is why we offer caregiver support to help you with tips and techniques for self-love

  • Be there: Often, caregivers don’t have to do something special to showcase their love. Being there for someone and constantly reminding them will do the magic. When they receive generous support from a caregiver who accepts them as they are, they are more likely to be resilient in the long run

Final thoughts

Self-harm has a detrimental effect on the mind and body. In extreme cases and left untreated self-harm can lead to suicide. However, all self-harmers are not suicidal. Studies show that teenagers are susceptible to self-harm behaviors, so parents need to enhance their parenting skills and understand the emotional changes during adolescence and the impact of academic and peer pressure on students. With timely intervention, psychoeducation and caregiver support, it is possible to lead a healthy and happy life.


Written by Padmapriyadarshini

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