Self-harm, also referred to as self-mutilation, self-injury or cutting, is the intentional destruction of body tissue or alteration of the body done without the conscious desire to commit suicide, usually in an attempt to relieve tension.  Self-harm has been increasing in adolescents at a problematic rate since the 1990s.  The cutting of one’s skin with razors, knives or other sharp objects is the most common form of self-harm.  Other forms of self-harm include biting, hitting or bruising oneself; picking or pulling at skin or hair; burning oneself with cigarettes or amputating parts of the body.  The following information may be helpful to parents who have daughters struggling with this issue.

Causes and Symptoms of Self-Harm

It is not entirely clear why some people resort to self-harm.  It appears that self-harm may give teenagers an immediate release from almost unbearable tension caused by anxiety, depression, anger or sadness and to give the actor a sense or feeling of control.  Some researchers have connected this feeling of relief or release with certain chemicals in the body that are associated with or secreted in response to pain–the pain achieved through self-harm.  Like other addictive behaviors, however, self-mutilation gradually requires more and more destruction to achieve the same level of relief or release.  Those involved in self-harm are often categorized into several groups based on their psychological condition, motivation for harming themselves and the degree to which they practice self-harm.

The most common form of self-harm, and the one usually manifest in adolescents, is an impulsive self-harm consisting generally of superficial skin cutting and burning.  It is very common for those engaged in self-harm to have underlying psychiatric disorders which may include the following:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Anorexia or bulimia
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression

Compulsive self-harm consists of repetitive actions such as hair pulling, nail biting and skin pricking.  This type of self-harm is often typical of individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Major self-harm is the least frequent form of self-harm.  It generally involves infrequent episodes of destruction of large amounts of tissue which can include self-castration or self-amputation.  Major episodes of self-harm most often occur with psychotic or highly intoxicated individuals and occasionally with institutionalized mentally retarded individuals.  Major episodes of self-harm can also be associated with autism, Tourett syndrom and schizophrenia.

What should a parent do if he/she is dealing with an adolescent engaged in self-harm?

If an adolescent is engaged in self-harm seek professional help and intervention immediately.  Havenwood specializes in helping teenagers who are engaged in self-harm behavior.  We would be happy to consult with you to determine how we can help–CALL NOW.



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