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Recognizing Self-Harm Awareness Month

Embark Behavioral Health
March 1, 2021

Each year, during the month of March, mental health organizations across the country raise awareness for self-harm – a condition that affects more teenagers and young adults than most realize. Because many teens keep their condition a secret, it can be challenging for their parents to identify if their child is engaging in harmful behavior.

Learn more about what self-harm is, how it manifests itself in teens, and what to do if you think your child is depressed or engaging in self-injurious behaviors.

What Is Self-Harm?

Also known as self-abuse, self-injury or self-mutilation, self-harm occurs when someone intentionally and repeatedly harms themselves impulsively but not lethally.

The most common methods of self-injury in teens and young adults include:

  • Burning
  • Excessive scratching
  • Hair pulling
  • Headbanging
  • Hitting
  • Punching oneself or other objects
  • Purposefully breaking bones
  • Skin cutting

Though self-harm is often kept a secret, it is not uncommon.

Self-injury occurs in 4% of adults in the United States and is more common among teens, with 15% of teens in the U.S. reporting some form of self-injury. That rate is even higher for young adults, ranging from 17-35%.  

What Causes Self-Harm in Teens and Young Adults?

Many teens who self-harm, report they are attempting to cope with difficult or painful feelings and that their self-injury is not a suicide attempt.

Self-injury can be a way for teens to express control when they feel a lack of control in their lives.

Teenagers who self-harm may do so as a result of past experiences with abuse, neglect or trauma. The self-injurious behavior may also lead to the development of other conditions, like depression, eating disorders, or substance abuse as well.

The Top 5 Warning Signs of Self-Harm

Most teenagers who engage in self-injury keep it a secret, and it can be difficult for a parent to know if their child is in danger or needs mental health treatment.

Teenagers often try and hide their bruises, scabs or scars, which is why you may notice your teen daughter or son wearing inappropriate clothing, like long sleeves or pants in hot weather. If you ask your child about their injuries, they may make an excuse or lie about what happened.

The top five signs that a loved one may be engaging in self-injury include:

  1. Decreased academic or occupational performance
  2. Increased isolation
  3. Low self-esteem
  4. Relationship problems
  5. Unexplained injuries

Treating Self-Harm in Teens and Young Adults

While self-injury is not typically a suicide attempt, a teenager may cause more harm than intended, resulting in medical complications that can lead to death. Or, in more severe self-harm cases, a teen may lose control which can lead to an actual suicide attempt.

Mental health treatment for self-injury depends on each individual teenager or young adult, but can include in-home therapy, outpatient therapy, or care at a residential treatment program.

If you suspect your teen is engaging in acts of self-harm, contact a mental health professional who can diagnose and treat self-injury immediately.

Embark Behavioral Health has a continuum of programs and resources to help parents and teens coping with self-harm. Learn more about how we can help treat your family by contacting Embark today.

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of mental health treatment centers, for young people, that is dedicated to reversing the trends of anxiety, depression and suicide by 2028. Our therapists are experts at engaging with teens and helping entire families heal and rebuild.