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March Is Self-Injury Awareness Month

03/09/2015 05:54 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Warning: this article may contain emotional triggers.

March is self injury awareness month in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. There are two-million cases, mostly youth, reported annually in the United States. The stigma of self-injury needs to be broken.

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Self-injury, sometimes called self-harm, is any deliberate, non-suicidal behaviour that inflicts physical injury to your body. Self-harm by itself isn't suicidal behaviour. But if the emotional distress that causes self-injury continues, it can cause suicidal thoughts.

Self-injury is an attempt at instant relief from an emotional pain. We often think of cutting when it comes to self-injury, but self-injury includes actions like burning, pulling hair out in clumps, breaking bones, scratching, bruising, and drinking something harmful like bleach. The physical pain of self-harm is often easier to deal with than the emotional pain behind it. Self-injury is a coping mechanism. It can help you deal with intense emotional distress by creating a calming sensation or the feeling that you have control of a situation. It's also real pain. You can see the injury and know why it's hurting as opposed to emotional pain.

Self-injury happens across all genders, races, beliefs and ages. According to the organization Healthy Place, one in five women and one in five men engage in self-injury. Some 90 per cent of self-harm starts in adolescence, usually around age 14 and continues into the 20s. It may even continue or start later in life. Because self-injury is more common among girls, it's led to the gender based stigma that girls who self injure are attention seekers.

How do you help someone who self-injures?

DON'T

  1. Get angry or show disgust. Negativity alienates and ultimatums only drive the person away from you.
  2. Deny the problem. It's not the person's problem or just one of his/her 'things'. It's not a fad, social statement or a phase he/she will grow out of.
  3. Hide sharp objects. If the person wants to self-injure, he/she will find a way.
  4. Judge the severity of the injury as an indicator of the level of emotional pain. A severely depressed person might only have scratches instead of cuts.
  5. Assume the person is okay once in treatment. Recovery from self-injury can take months, maybe even years.

DO

  1. Stay calm. Freaking out won't solve anything. It will just close all lines of communication.
  2. Talk. Be non-judgmentally supportive. Ask "Why are you doing this to yourself?"
  3. Take the problem seriously. It's not about attention-seeking or a growing pain.
  4. Seek treatment. Accompany the person to the doctor or counsellor but don't be pushy about privacy.
  5. Find the triggers. Focus on the underlying problems rather than just the injury.
  6. Trust the person. Self-injury is just a small part of the person.

For information or assistance, contact Mental Health America or S.A.F.E. Alternatives

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