Erlanger Behavioral Health Hospital offers high-quality services and support for adolescents, adults, and senior adults who are struggling with self-harm. Located in Chattanooga, TN, Erlanger is a leading provider of self-harm treatment.
Learn about self-harm
Although often taboo and misunderstood, self-harm is a very dangerous mental health concern. Self-harm occurs when an individual purposefully inflicts pain on themselves, often through cutting, burning, biting, or scratching. A common misconception is that individuals who self-harm are suicidal, but that is not always the case.
Individuals who self-harm mostly do so to seek relief from negative feelings and/or to gain a sense of control of their lives when they feel completely out of control. Furthermore, for the individual, self-harm can also be a way to physically see and experience emotional pain or turmoil. Emotional pain can be hard to express or comprehend, so being able to experience that pain in a physical way can provide a sense of relief or comfort.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with self-harm, know that it doesn’t have to remain a daily battle. Treatment is readily available and can include time in an inpatient facility, outpatient sessions, meetings with a counselor, or other supports.
Statistics about self-harm
Self-harm is a growing concern in the United States. According to Mental Health America:
- Upward of 4% of adults in the U.S. self-harm.
- High school- and college-age individuals are more at risk, with approximately 15-35% of individuals engaging in self-harm.
Cutting one’s skin, or “cutting,” is the most common method of self-harm, used by 70-90% of individuals who self-harm.
Causes & Risk Factors
Causes and risk factors for self-harm
The causes and risk factors for self-harm can vary greatly. However, some of the most common include:
- Having a family member who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, even though self-harm itself is not considered a mental illness
- Lacking positive coping skills
- Being in a stressful environment at home or at work
- Being a female
- Having poor impulse control
- Being the victim of abuse or neglect
- Having low self-esteem
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of self-harm
Symptoms of self-harm are not always easy to recognize. For most individuals, self-harm is done behind closed doors and in private, and the results of self-harm are often covered up. That said, here are some signs and symptoms to look for if you suspect that someone you care about is engaging in self-harm:
- Refusing to go to school
- Taking frequent days off from work
- Isolating oneself from family and friends
- Losing interest in activities that they once enjoyed
- Consistently wearing long pants or long-sleeved shirts, even when it’s hot outside
- Pulling out one’s own hair
- When asked about injuries or markings, claiming that they are the result of an accident
- Broken bones
- Burn marks on the skin
- Patches of missing hair
- Scarring and/or frequent bruising
- Consistent cuts, scrapes, and scratches
- Wounds that never seem to heal
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Losing the ability to control one’s own impulses
- Periods of emotional detachment
- Emotional instability
- Feelings of shame
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness
- Feelings of agitation and irritability
- Growing intensity of anxiety, especially when one is not able to self-harm
- Feeling depressed
Effects of self-harm
If left untreated, self-harm can affect a person both physically and mentally. Some of the lasting effects of this dangerous mental health concern can include:
- Physical complications, including severe injuries and infections
- Organ damage and/or failure
- Tissue and nerve damage leading to permanent numbness/weakness in parts of the body
- Decline in performance in school and/or at work
- Issues in personal relationships
- Social withdrawal
- Developing a substance use issue
- The onset of additional mental health concerns
- Accidental suicide
Struggling with self-harm does not need to remain a way of life. There are well-trained counselors and therapists who are ready and willing to help. It’s possible to leave the pain, guilt, and shame of self-harm behind and welcome a new, healthy life.
Common co-occurring disorders among people who struggle with self-harm
If an individual is battling self-harm, they may also be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. Some common co-occurring disorders among people who self-harm include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Borderline personality disorder