Why Teens Self-Harm
Let’s talk about why teens self-harm so you as a trusted adult in a teens life can intervene and get the teen the help they’re in need of. We need to be more open about teen mental health in our homes and this is a conversation we need to be having in our schools.
It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of teens in distress and how best to intervene as their trusted adults.
The Consequences of Self-Harm:Understand that the consequences of this self-harm behavior goes beyond physical harm. It includes depression, anxiety, stress, overwhelming feels, social isolation – isolation is toxic, and can certainly be an increased risk for a suicide attempt. Intervening early can save a life or a future of negative coping and problem-solving skills.
Self-Harm in our CommunitiesSelf-harm is a highly prevalent behavior in our middle school, high schools, on college campuses, and in our communities. It really highlights the fact that we really need to address this behavior and start the conversations in our schools. Our teachers, coaches, and school personnel are so important and vital in the conversation around teen mental health, self-harm, and suicide prevention.
Self-Harm is the Primer to SuicideResearchers have speculated that self-harm might prime teens for suicide as long as they’re able to overcome the fear and pain that comes from self-harm. When Jeff ask teens about self-harm and why they haven’t made the forever decision yet, they say, “It would hurt too much.” Or, “I couldn’t do that to my friends, family.” These are major red flags. Jeff says, if a student is self-harming (cutting) and not getting the help they need then two things start to happen:
- The individual starts to tolerate the pain
- The individual starts to justify why taking their life is the right thing to do
Scientists Describe Self-Harm
Non-suicidal self-injury is commonly defined by scientists as a deliberate discrete destruction of body tissue without the intent of suicide.You’re trying to destroy your body in some way without trying to kill yourself. A wide range of behaviors fit this description of why teens self-harm, including cutting, burning and carving of the skin, and sticking yourself with pins and needles. It’s also pulling hair, punching themselves, and and it’s also reckless behavior and self-medicating – vaping, drugs, alcohol, pot, and more harmful drugs. Our youth usually start self-harming themselves between the ages of 11 and 15. Be mindful it is happening at a much earlier age and also at an older age. Know why teens are self-harming and by knowing why you have a better chance of getting the teen the help they need. Surveys that suggest self-harm in teens is somewhere between 4% and 50%. If we are looking at self-medicating and self-harm together, Jeff says those that self-medicate are dealing with issues and they’re using self-medicating to cope. If this is the case, we are looking at much more than 50%.
Self-Harm: Increased Risk of SuicideThere is also some evidence that people who engage in non-suicidal self-injury are at an increased risk of suicide. The evidence mostly links strongest with those patients in psychiatric care. When Jeff comes to a school community and address teens in one-on-ones here is two feelings he most commonly hears from students about why they’re self-harming. These are two symptoms of teen suicide behavior and warning signs of mental illness.
Self-Harm Thoughts Come From:
- Feelings of Being Alone – Teens feel they lack meaningful relationships.
- Disappointment – Teens feel they’re a disappointment to family, friends, teachers, coaches. They don’t want to burden you with their problems.
Visit Jeff’s Theory on Teen Suicide:A large majority of teens who report non-suicidal self-injury are not trying to end their life, they’re trying to cope with life and we know that teens today are struggling with coping skills and problem solving skills. In this conversation when the teen is open about their self-harm, they’re asking for help. Our youth struggle with asking for help because they’re afraid to ask, they don’t know, or, they’re afraid to talk because they feel they will be judged.
Coping with EmotionsTeens engage in self-injury as a way to cope with their emotions, particularly the negative ones. Most teens that talk about self-harm say that it works. That self-harm makes them feel better. It calms them down and brings a sense of relief. When Jeff is meeting with a teen who is opening sharing their self-harm, he says, “Self-harm is a good thing in that you’re recognizing it isn’t the healthy way of asking or getting help.” The teen is often shocked by what Jeff is saying. He makes sure that the individual fully understands what he is saying and what he means. He helps them to understand they want help and they’re acting out. To know that self-harm isn’t healthy and to want to deal with emotions in a more healthy manner is what Jeff applauds in his talks with teens. With the right help and trusted relationships, the teen will open up and see that asking for help is okay and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. If you work with teens in any capacity it’s a great responsibility and privilege to help our youth deal with their thoughts and emotions in a more healthy manner. If we don’t teach our youth in their young years, their unhealthy coping skills will manifest and appear later and throughout your life causing greater issues and problems.
But Why Self-Harm?Self-harm is soothing. Self-harm makes the teen feel better in the moment they’re self-harming. Self-harm releases endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals that relieve pain and can produce euphoria in a way similar to a runner getting that endorphin effect, running. People use self-harm in a ways that other people use drugs or alcohol, food, gambling, or sex . . . to try to feel better in the hear and the now. Young people live in the here and the now and that is a challenge of understanding and getting across to our youth is that life isn’t in the here and the now. Consider this, many people also self-harm as a form of punishment.
- relieve tension or stop bad feelings
- feel something, even if it’s pain; The individual wants control
- communicate with others to show they are distressed
- get others to stop bothering them