Signs & Effects of Self-Harm

Red River Hospital helps individuals struggling with self-harm build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Wichita Falls, TX, Red River is the leading provider of self-harm treatment.

Understanding Self-Harm

Learn about self-harm

Self-harm is the deliberate infliction of damage to oneself without the actual intention of ending one’s own life. Instead of being an attempt at suicide, self-injury is instead an unhealthy way of coping with emotional pain, intense anger, or frustration. While cutting is the most common form of self-injury, other behaviors can include burning, biting, pulling out hair, punching oneself, banging one’s head against a hard object, breaking bones, or drinking a harmful substance.

Those who self-harm are not engaging in these acts because they want to end their life or gain attention. These individuals self-harm because they are struggling with inner turmoil that they are unable to control and know no other means of coping with those feelings. Others self-harm as a way to self-sooth or decrease levels of anxiety. The problem with self-injury is that, while it may bring about a temporary sense of calm and release of tension, it is usually followed by guilt and shame. Additionally, the real underlying issues are never resolved and there is the possibility that more serious, and even fatal, self-aggressive actions will occur without proper treatment.

Statistics

Self-harm statistics

The majority of people who engage in self-harming behaviors do so in private, making it difficult to determine any exact statistics on the true prevalence of these behaviors. However, professionals in the field estimate that, in the United States alone, approximately one in five women and one in seven men intentionally harm themselves in some way.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for self-harm

While we are still unable to determine the exact cause for why an individual would start to self-harm, the most common hypotheses include a combination of the following as initiating its development:

Genetic: The disorders of which self-injury may be symptomatic are believed to have strong genetic links. For example, major depression can lead an individual to participate in self-harming behaviors, and depression itself is known to run in families. People who have family members who struggle with mental illnesses are at a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder as well, which may trigger these behaviors.

Physical: It is believed by professionals that when the neurotransmitters in the brain, which are responsible for a person’s ability to properly regulate emotions, become imbalanced, an individual is more susceptible to developing a mental illness. This puts an individual at a greater risk for the onset of self-mutilating acts.

Environmental: A person’s environment can have a significant impact on whether or not they start to engage in self-injury. For example, those who grow up in households surrounded by constant chaos and instability may take comfort in self-harm because it provides them with something that they can have control over. Additionally, those who have gone through abuse or extreme trauma may find themselves participating in self-injurious acts as a way to find some sort of relief from internal emotions that are causing them pain.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Poor coping skills
  • Poor regulation of one’s emotions
  • History of depression
  • History of other mental illnesses
  • Impulsivity
  • Lacking strong, healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Death of a loved one
Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of self-harm

The signs and symptoms of self-mutilation will vary from person to person and will depend on a number of different factors, such as the method of self-harm and the length of time in which he or she has been engaging in those behaviors. Some examples of symptoms that may be present in an individual who is deliberately hurting him or herself can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, even in warm weather
  • No longer participating in activities that he or she once enjoyed
  • Spending excessive amounts of time alone
  • Brushing off any injuries that are noticed by others as being “accidents”

Physical symptoms:

  • Often has bruises, scrapes, cuts, or scratches
  • Patches of missing hair
  • Scars
  • Frequent, unexplainable broken bones

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Chronic, uncontrollable thoughts about wanting to self-harm
  • Difficulty controlling impulses
  • Dissociating

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Increased feelings of anxiety and/or agitation when unable to self-harm
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Feeling lonely
  • Excessive feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feeling defeated
Effects

Effects of self-harm

The long-term effects of self-injury are not only physically damaging, but can also cause a number of other negative consequences in an individual’s life. Some of these consequences depend upon the method of self-harm being used. Some such long-term effects can include:

  • Familial conflict
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust with oneself
  • Social isolation
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Consistent and intrusive thoughts about the self-harming behavior
  • Anemia
  • Permanent tissue damage
  • Permanent numbness or weakness in certain parts of the body
  • Improper healing of broken bones
  • Permanent scarring
  • Infected wounds
  • Severe bleeding
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Accidental death
Co-Occurring Disorders

Self-harm and co-occurring disorders

It is often the case that when someone is engaging in self-harming behaviors there is a mental health disorder present. Some of the most common disorders that are associated with self-injury include:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance abuse

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