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March Is Self-Injury Awareness Month: Breaking the Silence, Healing the Scars

March represents the beginning of spring, with the vernal equinox, and the return of Daylight Saving Time. However, March is also Self-Injury Awareness Month. This month is all about raising awareness about self-harm, as well as the importance of education and understanding.

Beyond the Label

Often called non-suicidal self-harm (NSSI), self-injury is the deliberate act of inflicting physical pain on oneself. Even though suicidal ideas can sometimes be present, this isn't a suicide attempt. It's more of a coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, or numbness.

It is estimated that 30% of teenage girls and 10% of boys have intentionally hurt themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to one study, 25% of young people self-injure.

Especially among girls, these rates have increased significantly over the past ten years. Between 2001 and 2015, self-harm increased 166% among girls aged 10-14 and 62% among girls aged 15-19. It has been reported that cutting, the most common form of self-harm, has increased 18.8% per year among girls ages 10-14 since 2009.

It is important to note that self-harm is not just a teenage fad. Regardless of age, gender, or background, self-injury affects many people.

Why Do People Self-Harm?

The reasons people self-injure aren't simple. Generally, self-injury comes from:

  • A lack of coping skills. When stress or emotional pain cannot be dealt with in a healthy way, nonsuicidal self-injury results.

  • An inability to manage emotions. It is possible for someone who has difficulties controlling, expressing, or understanding their emotions to commit self-injury. An individual's trigger for self-injury is a complex mix of emotions. You may feel worthless, alone, panicked, angry, guilty, rejected, and self-hatred, for example. An individual may experience bullying or have questions about their sexual identity.

The following factors can, however, increase the risk of self-injury:

  • Issues relating to mental health. It is more likely that self-injury will occur in people who are highly critical of themselves and who struggle with problem-solving. The act of self-injury is also frequently associated with mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • A life issue. An individual's risk of self-injury may increase if he or she has experienced neglect, abuse, physical harm, or other traumatic events. Being raised in an unstable home environment can also have a negative impact. Social isolation and questioning one's identity are also risk factors.

  • Alcohol or drug use. There is a risk of self-harm when alcohol or recreational drugs are consumed.

  • A friend who self-injures. It is more likely that someone will begin self-injuring if he or she has friends who harm themselves intentionally.

Regardless of its purpose, self-injury can be used to:

  • Provide relief from severe distress or anxiety.

  • Physical pain can distract you from painful emotions.

  • Feel as though you have control over your body, feelings, or circumstances.

  • Whenever you feel emotionally empty, you want to feel something -- even if it's physical pain.

  • An external expression of internal feelings.

  • Make others aware of your stress or depression.

  • Self-punishment.

Signs & Symptoms

Self-injury usually takes place in private. This is usually performed in a controlled and consistent way, which leaves a pattern on the skin. A few examples of self-harm are:

  • One of the most common methods is by cutting, scratching, or stabbing with a sharp object.

  • Matches, cigarettes, or heated, sharp objects like knives to cause burns.

  • Symbols or words being carved into the skin.

  • Self-punching, biting, or headbanging.

  • Using sharp objects to puncture the skin.

  • The process of inserting objects under the skin.

The most common places to self-injure are the arms, legs, chest, and belly. In some cases, more than one method can be used to attack different parts of the body.

You may feel compelled to self-injure when you are upset. Often, people self-injure only once or twice before stopping. Some individuals, however, may resort to self-injury on a regular basis over a longer period of time.

Symptoms and warning signs of self-harm:

  • An injury that is fresh, such as a cut, bruise, bite mark, or burn.

  • Scars and bruises.

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts or pants regardless of the weather.

  • Feeling helpless or worthless.

  • Accidental injuries are frequently reported.

  • Unpredictability and emotional instability.

  • Keeping sharp objects on hand at all times.

  • Frequent reports of accidental injury

The Hidden Scars of Self-Injury

Self-injury can leave physical marks, but the emotional and psychological effects last a lifetime. Individuals can experience:

  • Shame and guilt. To recover from self-harm, one may feel shame and secrecy because of the social stigma that surrounds it.

  • Isolation and loneliness. As a result of the fear of judgment, individuals may feel isolated, which further exacerbates their difficulties.

  • Addiction. As a temporary relief, self-harm can become addictive, creating a dangerous dependency on it.

  • Increased risk of suicide. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can precede self-harm, even though self-harm isn't inherently suicide.

Breaking the Silence: Steps Towards Healing

Healing begins with acknowledging the problem. When you know someone who self-harms, offer them your support without judging them. Provide them with resources, such as therapy groups and hotlines, to assist them in seeking professional help.

In order to help, here are a few suggestions:

  • Educate yourself. Get a better understanding of the person's struggle by learning the signs and causes of self-harm.

  • Offer non-judgmental support. Allow them to express their feelings in a safe space.

  • Validate their experiences. Make them aware of the validity of their emotions and the reality of their struggle.

  • Encourage professional help. Support their search for a therapist or counselor.

  • Be patient. In order to heal, you must travel, not arrive. Respect their pace and offer consistent support.

When to See a Doctor

Seek help if you are injuring yourself or have thoughts of harming yourself, no matter how minor. The act of self-injury indicates the presence of bigger stressors that need to be addressed.

Consult a friend, family member, therapist, spiritual leader, school counselor, nurse, or teacher you trust. You can take the first steps towards successful treatment with their help. There are people who will not judge your behavior, even if you feel ashamed or embarrassed about it.

Beyond Awareness: Building a Supportive Community

This month, we celebrate Self-Injury Awareness Month and strive to build a community that supports each other. It is possible to:

  • Advocate for mental health resources. Ensure that mental health and therapy programs are accessible at an affordable cost.

  • Spread awareness through social media and campaigns. Make sure accurate information is shared and harmful stereotypes are dispelled.

  • Promote self-compassion and acceptance. To combat negative self-image, encourage self-care and positive self-talk.

  • Remember, you're not alone. Individuals who are struggling with self-harm should be reminded that help is available and that recovery is possible.

Despite self-injury's complexity, we can offer support, acknowledge, and understand those who need it and help them heal. After all, it is important for every voice to be heard since every scar informs a story of strength and resilience. Rather than seeing self-harm as a hidden struggle, let's change the perception to one of a journey toward acceptance and wholeness.


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