Self-injury or self-harm awareness month is observed annually in the month of March. Since self-injury is a topic seldom talked about, this campaign serves the purpose of enlightening the masses about the subject. On this day, mental health awareness organizations specifically focus on raising awareness about the issue of self-injury and why people do it. Several people around the world who were formerly engaged in such behavior also share their stories and experiences as their contribution to breaking the stereotypes and stigma around the topic.
Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) among adolescents has become an issue that requires immediate attention from parents and caretakers. According to statistics, almost 18% of adolescents engage in self-injurious behavior — the age of adolescence has been noted to be the peak of initiating such behavior — while nearly 5.9% of adults are likely to do the same.
In honor of self-harm awareness month, we at Mooditude are doing our part in spreading awareness about non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) among the youth to understand why they do it and what drives their actions, along with determining its relationship with mental health.
Understanding Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI)
Hurting oneself deliberately in a manner that results in physical damage or causes pain to the body is called self-injury. Non-suicidal self-injury is the intentional violation of the body, not intended to cause death or suicide. It is a condition that more commonly affects young adults and adolescents during the crucial developmental phases of human growth. However, this does not entail that adults aren’t reported to engage in self-destruction as well; they are merely less likely to do so.
Self-harm, not intended to cause death, can take many forms. The most common types of self-harm include cutting, scratching, and headbanging with deliberately breaking bones, punching oneself, burning, and inserting foreign objects into the body being extreme forms of self-harm. Substance abuse is also considered to be a form of self-harm.
Although self-injurious behavior mimics that of suicidal behavior, it is not the same. However, it can be a risk factor for suicide and suicide attempts. People who engage in NSSI describe it as an addiction that keeps them stuck in a vicious loop of inflicting pain upon themselves that they are often unable to escape from. According to health experts, there is a significant connection between non-suicidal self-injury and mental health that could explain their behavior in more detail.
Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) and Mental Health
Self-harm and self-injury are often signs of repressed negative emotions and severe emotional and mental strain. According to psychologists, pre-existing mental health conditions can increase the risk of falling into the practice of self-destructive behavior. It seems that the likelihood of inflicting pain and injury upon oneself is linked to emotional distress, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and personality disorders.
It is highly likely that issues with self-love and self-acceptance, and increased pessimism are also responsible for a lot of cases of self-injury. Similarly, among people battling pre-existing mental disorders, it can be a cause of the further decline in their mental health and may give rise to feelings of shame and guilt.
Why Do People Self-Harm?
Self-injury or self-harm is not necessarily considered to be a mental disorder rather, it is a behavioral issue that provides insight into how a person chooses to deal with trauma and difficult situations in life. For years, psychologists have been trying to understand the thought process that drives a person to self-harm. They theorize that young adults and adolescents who have experienced neglect, trauma, or abuse may view self-injury as a coping mechanism through which they can translate their pent-up emotional suffering into physical pain, somehow serving as a relief to them.
Contrary to the belief of the masses, several studies have proved that people who inflict pain on themselves are not unusual; they feel pain the same way everyone else does and find the sensations unpleasant. To understand their ‘addiction’ to pain, researchers relate it to a phenomenon known as ‘pain offset.’
Pain offset means reduction or removal of pain, which, according to experts, is what drives people to take up self-harm as a coping method. It is the relief that follows right after the pain of the physical injury that begins feeling familiar and soothing to these people, making them obsessed. As the pain from the physical injury abates, a sense of relief follows right after, which tricks the mind into alleviating mental and emotional pain as well.
Risk Factors of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury Disorder
Self-injurious behavior is common among people of all sexual orientations, genders, and ethnicities. The only difference noted is the method people choose to inflict it. Cutting is the most common form of self-harm among women, while burning and battering is the most prevalent form of self-injury among men. Certain risk factors increase the susceptibility of adolescents to get involved in self-injurious behavior, including:
- Low self-esteem.
- Experiencing bullying.
- Childhood trauma or abuse.
- Emotional or physical neglect.
- A pre-existing emotional disorder.
- Repressed emotions or extreme emotional distress.
Signs of Self-Harm
On the occasion of self-harm awareness month, as a gesture of acceptance, understanding, and support for those who are stuck with the destructive habit, unable to ask for help, it is our responsibility to make them feel understood. To do so, we need to be able to identify the signs of self-harm to ensure we’re available for our friends, family, and children in times of need. A person who is involved in self-injurious behavior like cutting, burning, biting, or scratching may depict the following signs:
- Hiding signs of injury by wearing loose-fitting and concealing attire
- Showing signs of an eating disorder.
- Excessive negativity.
- Anxiety and depression.
- Unexplained scars, cuts, or abrasions.
- Helplessness and hopelessness.
- Emotional instability and behavior like anger issues and impulsiveness.
- Possession of sharp, dangerous objects on hand.
- Difficulty maintaining relationships.
Helping Someone Who You Suspect of Self-Harm
Whether you suspect someone of engaging in self-injurious behavior or someone confides in you about their secret habit, it is good to be aware of how to deal with and help them if they ever need you. Here’s what you can do to help friends or family that might be suffering:
Understanding is the most valuable thing you can offer someone who’s using self-harm as an outlet for negative emotions. Try to be genuinely interested in whatever they’re going through and try to understand what is driving them to engage in self-destructive behavior.
Don’t Be Judgmental
It’s easy to judge people when you know nothing of their predicament. People who self-injure have a lot of shame tied to their scars and actions already, and the last thing they’re looking for is judgment. Often, this fear of judgment is what stops them from seeking help, which is why it’s imperative to keep an open and accepting mind if you’re trying to be of help.
In a society where self-harm is stigmatized and people who engage in such acts are disgraced and misunderstood to the extent that they avoid getting help, offering a few words of support and telling them that you’re there for them could make a huge difference. Eventually, you could convince them to seek professional help as well.
On self-harm awareness month, as a part of this community, we must do our part in spreading knowledge about non-suicidal self-injury among the general public to help break stereotypes and stigma around the topic. You never know your efforts to understand their actions better could be all the encouragement they need to seek professional help without fear of judgment.
Mooditude features a 24/7 online forum where you can talk to mental health experts — and a vast community that prioritizes mental health before anything else — about your concerns without any fear of being judged.