Mental Health and Self-Injury
What Are the Symptoms of Self-Injury?
The symptoms of self-injury include:
- Frequent cuts and burns that cannot be explained
- Self-punching or scratching
- Needle sticking
- Head banging
- Eye pressing
- Finger or arm biting
- Pulling out one's hair
- Picking at one's skin
Warning Signs of Self-Injury
Signs that an individual may be engaging in self-injury include:
- Wearing of pants and long sleeves in warm weather.
- The appearance of lighters, razors, or sharp objects that one would not expect among a person's belongings.
- Low self-esteem.
- Difficulty handling feelings.
- Relationship problems.
- Poor functioning at work, school, or home.
How Is Self-Injury Diagnosed?
If an individual shows signs of self-injury, a mental health professional with self-injury expertise should be consulted. That person will be able to make an evaluation and recommend a course of treatment. Self-injury can be a symptom of psychiatric illness including:
- Personality disorders (particularly borderline personality disorder)
- Substance use disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Major depression
- Anxiety disorders (particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder)
How Is Self-Injury Treated?
Treatment for self-injury may include:
- Psychotherapy: Counseling can be used to help a person stop engaging in self-injury.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is a group- and individually-based treatment program that helps people gain greater mastery over self-destructive impulses (such as self-injury), learn ways to better tolerate distress, and acquire new coping skills through techniques such as mindfulness.
- Post-traumatic stress therapies: These may be helpful for self-injurers who have a history of abuse or incest.
- Group therapy: Talking about your condition in a group setting to people who have similar problems may be helpful in decreasing the shame associated with self-harm, and in supporting healthy expression of emotions.
- Family therapy: This type of therapy addresses any history of family stress related to the behavior and can help family members learn to communicate more directly and openly with each other.
- Hypnosis and other self-relaxation techniques: These approaches are helpful in reducing the stress and tension that often precede incidents of self-injury.
- Medications: Antidepressants. low-dose antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety medication may be used to reduce the initial impulsive response to stress.
What Is the Outlook for People Who Engage in Self-Injury?
The prognosis for self-injurious behavior varies depending upon a person's emotional or psychological state and the nature of any underlying psychiatric condition. It is important to determine the factors that lead to an individual's self-injuring behaviors, and to identify and treat any pre-existing personality disorders.