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Understanding Teen Self-Harm: Causes, Signs, and Solutions

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*Content/Trigger Warning: This article discusses self-harm, injury, and violence.

Experiencing an overwhelming amount of emotions from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety leads some people to harm themselves, also known as “self-harm.” While everyone processes their emotions in different ways, some people have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage their feelings. 

What is self-harm?

Self-harm, also known as self-injury, are any forms of intentionally hurting oneself. 

Self-harm can look different depending on the person and can be behaviors that we would not assume are intentional.

Some examples of self-harm include, but are not limited to, cutting, scratching, burning, hitting or punching oneself, banging one’s head against a wall or different surfaces, piercing the skin, pulling out hair, picking at skin and/or wounds, and drinking harmful substances.

Why do people turn to self-harm?

People turn to self-harm as a form of emotional release.

While there is no single clear cause, some people might injure themselves to process and/or distract from their negative feelings, develop a sense of control over their lives, punish themselves for something they think they’ve done wrong, and express emotions they might be embarrassed or unable to share.

Stigma surrounding mental health and self-harm can make someone feel ashamed and humiliated, which can make it very hard for the individual to seek professional help. If you think your child or loved one might be engaging in these behaviors, there are physical and social symptoms and signs you can look out for. 

What are the warning signs of self-harm?

Physical warning signs of self-harm include permanent scars, uncontrolled bleeding, infections, a diminished sense of self, and bruises, cuts, or marks on different parts of the body.

All symptoms and signs of self-harm can be dangerous and it is important to treat them equally. Some social warning signs to be aware of include avoiding friends and family, difficulty communicating with others, lying about injuries, and being excluded from friend groups or family members.

As a parent or caregiver, you might feel confused, frustrated, or helpless about the situation your loved one is in. While it is best to seek professional help as soon as possible, there are ways to intervene and support the person in need. 

How can I support my loved one?

1. Start by having a tough conversation about self-harm.

It is okay to admit that this is a difficult topic for you to discuss, but express your love and concern for them. The individual may have a strong reaction to the conversation, so be prepared for different outcomes. 

2. Take a neutral position and listen more than you speak.

They might become defensive and deny their behaviors or they might become upset and refuse to talk to you. Regardless of how they react, continue to express your support and love for them. 

3. Lean on medical professionals for their support and expertise.

Partnering with your child or loved one’s primary care physician and/or therapist can be beneficial as they can help create a care plan tailored to them. While it is critical to support your loved one emotionally, it is also important to support them in their physical environment. 

4. Remove unsafe items from the house.

This can include knives, razors, poisons, medications, and weapons can help curb their urge to hurt themselves. Even though it can be difficult and cause an inconvenience to remove these items, making the home environment safer can help them tremendously. 

Take Action Today

While self-harm can be a subject that is difficult for some to talk about, it is important to educate yourself on why people injure themselves, warning signs to be aware of, and how you can best support your loved one.

If you are in need of resources, A Brighter Day has partnered with BetterHelp to provide access to free mental health treatment.

Email us at to be connected to complimentary resources. If you are in need of immediate crisis support, text BRIGHTER to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor. 

Text BRIGHTER to 741741 for immediate crisis support

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