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Understanding Self-Harm with Compassion and Support

By Niku Sedarat

 

During Self-Injury Awareness Month, it is crucial for us to delve into the topic of self-injury, gaining a deeper understanding of what it is, why people engage in it, and how we can foster support and compassion for ourselves and each other.

Self-injury, also known as self-harm, is a complex challenge affecting individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Among youth, this issue is unfortunately prevalent. A meta-analysis of community-based studies spanning twenty-five years reveals that adolescent girls, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and individuals with autism spectrum disorders are more likely to engage in self-injury. Overall, there is a 16.9% prevalence of self-harm among adolescents.


Undoubtedly, self-harm is a significant challenge among youth and adolescents, but why is this the case? Amid the ongoing mental health crisis, many people may turn to self-injury as a coping mechanism for emotional turmoil they find overwhelming. The act of inducing pain triggers the release of endorphins, providing a temporary sense of emotional relief, relaxation, and euphoria. Unfortunately, this can create a feedback loop where self-injury intensifies emotions of guilt and shame, further fueling the urge to self-harm.

People may also resort to self-harm to experience physical pain during emotional numbness or to distract themselves from unwanted and negative thoughts. Faced with the pressures on youth and the inevitable setbacks in life, self-harm may become a coping mechanism during times of shame, guilt, or low self-worth in the face of failure and challenges.


Self-harm is an intricate and challenging experience. Yet, one truth remains: self-harm is NOT an attention-seeking behavior. Dispelling this harmful misconception is crucial, as it fails to acknowledge the diverse underlying challenges that may contribute to self-injury.


If you or a loved one is grappling with self-harm, know that you are not alone and deserving of care and support. There is hope and numerous ways to address the urges of self-injury. It is vital to seek support, whether from a doctor, mental health professional, or a community-support organization. For free support, text HOME to 741741 or contact the Trevor Project (call 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678) to speak to a counselor.


When dealing with self-harm and other mental health challenges, having a support system is imperative. Whether it's a caring friend or a compassionate family member, having a group of people aware of your challenges and willing to support you can be instrumental. Urges to self-harm can be powerful, so having a support group to distract you during these moments and hold you accountable can be beneficial. During urges, consider leveraging distractions like watching a movie, reading a book, journaling, or working out to shift your focus away from self-harm thoughts.


Furthermore, developing a robust toolkit of coping strategies for managing negative thoughts and emotions can be helpful. This proactive approach can intervene and prevent these emotions from escalating, reducing the need to resort to self-harm as a coping mechanism.


For those facing the challenges of self-harm, know that you are not alone, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. There is a path toward healing, and various avenues exist for support, whether through professional help or reaching out to free resources and supportive organizations. For free resources check out www.uniteyouthmentalhealth.com/resources


As a community, let's continue to break the stigma surrounding self-injury and mental health. Encourage open conversations, educate ourselves and others, and promote a culture of compassion. By doing so, we contribute to a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and supported in their journey toward mental well-being. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please reach out for help. You matter, your struggles are valid, and there is always hope. 


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