Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD), is an international awareness day that takes place every year on March 1 and is a day meant for learning about self-injury behaviors and for providing resources to those who are in need of help. An orange ribbon, representing a sign of hope for a misunderstood problem, symbolizes this awareness day. Self-injury, also known as self-harm, is the deliberate action of causing physical harm to oneself and is a very dangerous sign of emotional distress. According to the Statistical and Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), self-harm is formally known as non-suicidal self-injury disorder (NSSID) as these self-destructive behaviors are carried out without any intention of suicide. Adolescents are at the highest risk for self-harm injury as many studies state that roughly 15% of teenagers and 17-35% of college students have inflicted self-harmful behaviors on themselves. Males and females have comparable rates of self-harm behavior. Cutting, skin carving, self-medication, extreme scratching, or burning oneself as well punching or hitting walls to induce pain are examples of self injurious behavior. Other examples include ingesting toxic chemicals, extreme skin picking, hair pulling and deliberate interference with wound healing.

Taking a look at the statistics of self-injury

  • Each year, one in five females and one in seven males engage in self-harm behaviors
  • 90% of individuals who engage in self-harm begin during their teen or pre-adolescent years
  • Nearly 50% of individuals who engage in self-injury activities have been sexually abused
  • Females comprise 60% of individuals who engage in self-injurious behavior
  • Approximately 50% of those who engage in self harm behavior begin 14 years of age and continue into their 20s
  • Many individuals who engage in self-injury behavior report learning how to do so from their friends or pro self-injury websites or social media pages
  • Approximately two million cases are reported annually in the United States.

All of these self-injury statistics come from reliable sources however truly accurate rates and trends associated with self harm are difficult to come by because the majority of individuals who engage in self harm behavior conceal their activities. Their behaviors may never come to the attention of medical professionals or other social services.

What are the causes of self-injury?

The underlying causes of self-harm can be difficult to recognize without thorough assessment and therapy. Many adolescents who engage in self-harm behavior have severe underlying emotional pain and lack adequate coping skills. It is an impulsive act to regulate mood and attempt to overcome underlying anger, sadness, pain or frustration. Individuals most as risk for self-harm experienced trauma, neglect or abuse in the past and use this self-destructive behavior to hide or express their repressed emotions. Self-harm is strongly linked to other disorders, specifically, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Approximately 70% of individuals with borderline personality disorder and approximately 30% of females with eating disorders are known to participate in self-harm behaviors. Self-harm has also been linked to depression, anxiety and suicide however the statistics for these co-occurring disorders have not yet been set in stone.

Treatment for self-injury

If you know someone who is demonstrating self-harm, keep in mind that they most likely have a deep underlying disorder or additional signs of emotional distress. It is important to listen to them without judgment, express how much you care for them as a person and communicate that this behavior is not uncommon. There are many types of treatments available including psychotherapy and social support. Psychotherapy approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to focus on controlling thoughts and impulses and to understand how individuals interact in their environments and relationships. Social support is extremely important in self-harm as it is necessary for individuals to receive comfort and love from friends and family. There is no specific medication used to treat self-harm however medications may be prescribed to treat the underlying psychological disorder such as depression or anxiety.

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