March is Self-Harm Awareness Month. What is self-harm? Self-harm is hurting yourself on purpose, by cutting, scratching, burning, pulling out hair, and extreme injuries that can lead to broken bones.  Hurting yourself is not necessarily a mental illness but is often linked to emotional distress that you may not know how to deal with otherwise.

The use of drugs and excessive alcohol can worsen the effects of self-harm. If you are under the influence, you may harm yourself more than originally intended. This can lead to permanent injury, scarring, or marks, which in turn can lead to feelings of shame. Trying to hide self-harm injuries, such as wearing and changing band aids or wearing long sleeves in hot summer months, can take time and energy away from normal daily tasks is a clear sign that this harm has taken over and negatively affected life. This may be a sign to seek professional help.  

There are many different reasons you may self harm, such as to deal with strong emotions like anger or sadness, punish yourself for things you’ve done wrong, make yourself feel normal, make other aware of how you are feeling or get relief from certain feelings. You may self harm because you are overwhelmed by your feelings, or you find it difficult to put your specific feelings into words. Physical pain can distract from any emotional pain you may be feeling. All these signs indicate a need for better coping skills.

Self-harm tends to start in early teenage and young adult years, but it can happen to anyone at any time if they don’t have the right coping mechanisms and are dealing with intense emotions. Typically those at greater risk for developing self harm tendencies have experienced trauma in their past. The self harm can feel like a release, injuring yourself can stimulate endorphins and raise your mood.

Self harm can be a vicious cycle. After you initially self harm, you may experience intense feelings of guilt which lead to causing more self-harm.

There are many treatments options for reversing this cycle. Psychotherapy is great first step to learn how to deal with emotional distress in a healthy way. Depending on your needs a doctor may prescribe medications to help with difficult emotions.

If you or someone you know is hurting themselves, encourage them to seek help. Self harm is not uncommon and many psychiatrists and therapists are capable to help resolve the coping mechanism.

Learn more about how Emerald Psychiatry & TMS Center can help by calling 614-580-6917.