The UK organization LifeSIGNS started dedicating March 1st as Self Injury Awareness Day in 2002. Now, 20 years later, it is a national awareness day for many countries, including the U.S. Self-injury goes by other names, including self-harm and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), and encompasses a large range of actions that one takes to cope with extreme emotion, release tension from these emotions, or take back a perceived loss of control. While teens tend to be the most likely to self-injure, at about 15% of teens and 17-35% of students who self-harm, individuals of any age can be at risk. In honor of Self-Injury Awareness Day, it is important to keep in mind the signs of NSSI, and how to encourage someone to find help.
Signs of NSSI
Mayo Clinic (2018) lists various signs and symptoms of self-harm:
- Fresh wounds
- Keeping sharp objects on hand
- Wearing long clothing, especially/even in hot weather
- Frequent reports of accidental injury
- Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- Impulsivity, unpredictability, and behavioral or emotional instability
- Statements of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
Self-injury is often used as a coping skill for difficult emotions or mental health issues. For this reason, it is important to, rather than try to force or bargain (i.e., create an ultimatum) the person into stopping, encouraging your loved one to seek help through their doctor or a mental healthcare provider.
- Encourage them to seek help.
- Give them privacy.
- Remember: they are a person who happens to self-harm. This does NOT mean that they do not have interests, hobbies, etc., or that they are any different than the person you knew before finding out this information.
- Be someone they can talk to, or find support in. Recovery is a difficult journey, but it is much harder alone.
- Remember first aid practices and encourage them to keep first aid supplies on hand. IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY.
- Berate, insult, degrade, etc. your loved one for self-injuring.
- Invalidate their reasoning, such as saying, “You have so many good things in your life, so you have no reason to self-harm.”
- Ask to see scars/wounds. This can embarrass your loved one and make them less likely to reach out.
- Try to rush the healing process.
If you or a loved one is struggling or in crisis, you can contact the National Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), use the webchat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat, or text Crisis Text Line by sending HOME to 741741. In case of emergency, do not hesitate to call 911.