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What Are the Signs of Teen Self-Harm?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Teens who self-harm exhibit patterned signs and behaviors. Often, they have difficulty with relationships and make excuses to keep themselves socially isolated. It is not uncommon for self-harming teens to exhibit significant changes in personality, sleeping habits and academic performance. Many teens who engage in self-harming behaviors also demonstrate a significant loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Self-harm in teens can range from self-abuse to self-mutilation. Individuals who self-harm often keep their injuries a secret and make excuses if their injurious actions are discovered. Frequently associated with psychiatric diagnoses, such as depression and borderline personality disorder, teen self-harm can require hospitalization if one’s actions significantly endanger his or her well-being.

Methods of teen self-harm vary in manner and severity. Although cutting is considered the most common, it is possible for teens to engage in multiple self-injurious behaviors. Individuals may hit, bite or poison themselves. Purposely burning, scratching or pulling out one’s hair is not uncommon for teens engaging in self-abuse. It is not uncommon for self-harming teens to ingest inanimate objects that have the potential to harm, including marbles or razor blades.

Self-injurious behaviors are usually acted out on areas of the body that are easy to hide. Clothing is a primary means for keeping self-injurious behaviors a secret. For instance, teens who cut themselves usually inflict injury on their arms, torso or legs, which may be covered by a sweatshirt or pants.

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There is a significant distinction between suicide and self-harm. The object of teen self-harm is not to end one’s life; it is an attempt to simply cope with trauma and life’s stressors. Individuals who engage in self-harming behaviors are often depressive or borderline personalities who do not possess proper coping skills. Teen self-harm can increase one’s risk for infection, disfigurement or accidental suicide.

Causes of teen self-harm are as diverse as the methods. There is no single, known trigger for self-injurious behavior. Teens who purposely injure themselves consider their actions self-punishment for perceived faults, blame or responsibility associated with trauma or unpleasant situations in their lives. Harming one’s self is often seen as a means of maintaining some sense of control when everything in one’s life seems to be spiraling out of control.

There is no established approach for treating teen self-harm. If there is an underlying diagnosis, such as depression, medication may be used to stabilize the individual’s mood. Extreme cases of teen self-harm can necessitate hospitalization to keep the individual safe. Therapy may be recommended to educate the teen about healthy coping skills and improve his or her self-confidence. The goal of treatment is to eliminate self-injurious behaviors and minimize the risk for relapse.

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lluviaporos
Post 3

@Mor - Going for a run is intrinsically good for you though (within reason, of course) while self harm is intrinsically bad.

I agree that it's not the end of the world and that people can overcome it with time and help, but it's still a serious condition. I also think it should be taken seriously. If someone is harming themselves, they need to know that's a bad thing, because they deserve to be safe and healthy.

Mor
Post 2

@clintflint - I don't deny that people who self harm should see a counselor but I don't actually think it's necessarily as bad as some people assume. My sister went through a period when she was self harming a little and the way she used to talk about it reminded me of how I felt when I started smoking as a teenager. I felt bad and this was my way of showing the world how bad I felt.

I think it seems like it's always scary because it appears to be related to suicidal impulses, but it's actually got more to do with endorphin release. To some I think it's the equivalent of going for a fast run and basically just to relieve stress.

clintflint
Post 1

I'm always surprised by how common this behavior actually is. I think if you don't know anyone who ever did it (or don't realize that you know someone who did) you can imagine it to be extremely rare. But, for one reason or another, I've had a lot of friends confess to me that they did some version of self harm when they were teenagers.

The classic sign is, of course, the blade scars on the arm or leg, but one of my friends told me she used to spray perfume on raw skin to make it hurt and another told me she used to deliberately tease her cat until he scratched her in play.

Even if the methods are different though, the underlying cause is serious and the person should see a counselor. I actually wish that all teenagers were able to just see a counselor regularly for checkups to be honest.

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