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.
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.