Self-harming behaviour: Support is available

When experiencing trauma, depression, anxiety or any other type of emotion that is difficult to cope with, some people turn to self-injury or self-harm as a way to deal with their feelings.

According to Statistics Canada, between 2009 and 2014 the hospitalization rates for Canadian girls between the ages of 10 and 17 who intentionally harmed themselves more than doubled.

March is self-injury awareness month

The month of March is Self-Injury Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling, we encourage you to contact Calgary Counselling Centre and register for counselling. Our counsellors can help you find healthy ways to deal with how you’re feeling.

What is self-harm?

Self-injury or self-harm is when someone intentionally harms themselves. This is different than suicide as their intent is not to end their life. Self-harm is not a mental illness in itself, and it doesn’t always mean that someone who is practicing self-harm is experiencing a mental illness either. People who practice self-harm do so as a way to cope with their feelings, and in some instances do so as a way to show that they are experiencing distress.

Self-harm can take on a variety of descriptions, the most commonly known ones are the burning or cutting of the skin. Other types of self-harm can include intense scratching that cuts or breaks the skin, using impact or hitting to the point of bruising, or any other types of injuries that would result in breaking bones or bruising.

Why do people self-harm?

Some of the reasons people turn to self-harm are:

  • A coping mechanism when dealing with anxiety, depression, loss, self-esteem issues, trauma or violence

  • To turn emotional pain into physical pain

  • To establish a sense of real feelings (i.e.: pain) to counteract the emptiness or numbness they may be feeling

  • As a method of establishing or regaining control in their life or of their body

  • To ‘punish’ themselves if they feel they have done something wrong

  • Or to use self-harm as a way to feel better. Some people have indicated that a sense of euphoria can be felt during self-harm.

Signs of self-harm

While self-harm in some cases can be used as an inadvertent cry for help, most often people who participate in self-harm hide their behaviour.

Signs that someone may be harming themselves include:

  • Unexplained scars that look new or pink

  • Frequent injuries that cannot be explained such as cuts or bruises

  • Frequently wearing long sleeved shirts or pants, even in warm weather

  • Difficulty dealing with feelings or emotions including unexpected or unexplained emotional outbursts

  • Open discussions indicating relationship problems or low self-esteem

Who does self-harm affect?

Self-harming behaviours can be exhibited by any one at any time. Self-harm is exhibited by anywhere from one percent to four per cent of the population at any given time. It is more common in teens, 14 percent to 39 percent, as they deal with extreme emotions, peer pressure etc.

Self-harm is also more commonly exhibited by those who have low self-esteem or people who have difficulty communicating their emotions. Self-harm may also occur in those who are experiencing some form of abuse.

Self-harm can also be a sign of mental illness including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and some personality disorders.

Help for self-harm

The most important thing to be aware of is that If you or someone you know participates in self-harm behaviour that leads to an emergency medical situation, call 9-1-1 immediately or visit the nearest emergency room.

Register for counselling

At Calgary Counselling Centre, our counsellors can help you work through the emotions that are leading you to self-harm. Consider registering for counselling today.

Helping a friend or family member

If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it is okay to ask them if they are harming themselves. Talking about an injury or behaviour you are concerned about won’t make them starting harming themselves. You may not understand why they participate in this behaviour, so be sure to be understanding when you approach the subject.

Here are a few key tips:

  • Don’t focus on the self-harm behaviour, instead say that you are concerned for their well-being.

  • Don’t suggest or command that they stop the self-harming behaviour. Positive behaviour takes time to learn and implement. Focus on supporting them through their journey to positive mental health.

  • Learn more about the support available in your area, like Calgary Counselling Centre, and provide them with the information and resources to take the next steps.

Nick Heer