Self-injury is also termed self-mutilation, self-harm or self-abuse. The behavior is defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of oneself. Self-injury includes: cutting; scratching, picking sabs or interfering with wound healing; burning, punching self or objects; infecting oneself; inserting objects in body openings; bruising or breaking bones; some forms of hair pulling; as well as other forms of bodily harm. These behaviors, which pose serious risks, may be symptoms of a mental health problem than can be treated.
Warning signs include unexplained frequent injury including cuts and burns, wearing long pants and sleeves in warm weather, low self-esteem, difficulty handling feelings, relationship problems, and poor functioning at work, school or home.
Experts estimate the incidence of habitual self-injuries as nearly 1% of the population, with a higher proportion of females than males. The typical onset of self-harming acts is at puberty. The behaviors often last 5-10 years but can persist much longer without appropriate treatment.
Though not exclusively, the person seeking treatment is usually from a middle or upper class background, of average to high intelligence, and has low-self-esteem. Nearly 50% report physical and/or sexual abuse during his or her childhood. Many report (as high as 90%), that they were discouraged from expressing emotions, particularly anger and sadness.
Many who self-harm use multiple methods. Cutting arms or legs is the most common practice. Self-injuries may attempt to conceal the resultant scarring with clothing, and if discovered, often make excuses as to how an injury happened.
Self-injurer commonly report that they feel empty inside, over or under stimulated, unable to express their feelings, lonely, not understood by others and fearful of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities. Self-injury is their way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to express feeling, and is generally not a suicide attempt. But relief is temporary, and a self-destructive cycle often develops without proper treatment.
Self-injurers often become desperate about their lack of self-control and addictive-like nature of their acts, which may lead them to true suicide attempts. The self-injury behaviors may also cause more harm, than intended, which could result in medical complications or death. Eating disorders and alcohol or substance abuse intensify the threats to the individualís overall health and quality of life.
The diagnosis for someone who self-injures can only be determined by a licenses psychiatric professional. Self-harm behavior can be a symptom of several psychiatric illnesses: personality disorders (esp. borderline personality disorder); bipolar disorder (manic depression); major depression; anxiety disorders (esp. obsessive-compulsive disorder); as well as psychoses such as schizophrenia.
If someone displays the signs and symptoms of self-injury, a mental health professional with self-injury expertise should be consulted. An evaluation or assessment is the first step, followed by a recommended course of treatment to prevent the self-destructive cycle from continuing.
Self-injury treatment options include outpatient therapy, partial (6-12 hours a day) and inpatient hospitalization. When the behaviors interfere with daily living, such as employment and relationships, and are health or life-threatening, a specialized self-injury hospital program with experienced staff is recommended.
The effective treatment of self-injury is most often a combination of medication, cognitive/behavioral therapy, and interpersonal therapy, supplemented by other treatment services as needed
For more information visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net.