Defining Adolescent Self Harm
Defining Adolescent Self Harm

Defining Adolescent Self Harm

Self-Harm Has Become a Serious Issue Among the Nation’s Adolescents

It’s no secret that America’s Mental Health problem has gotten out of control. This is especially true for our nation’s teens, who by and large, are not receiving the necessary mental health treatment they so desperately require.

For further proof of our adolescent-mental health crisis, one needs to look no further than the U.S.’s national emergency room visits: According to national medical logs, 250 out of every 100,000 hospital visits involve a young person (ages 7-24) committing self-harm. In other words, our nation’s youth is committing some form of self-harm in record numbers.

What’s worse, the most common type of self-harm being committed by adolescents is what is known as, self-cutting, or simply, cutting. Self-cutting/cutting, like its namesake suggests, is when a person (typically teenagers and young adults) impulsively cuts themselves in order to feel temporary relief from stress, anxiety, and depression. Of course, cutting being the most common form of self-harm is problematic as it is a behavior that can easily evolve into suicidal ideation, and can even result in fatal consequences - inadvertently or otherwise.

Note to parents: If your teenage child is engaging in dangerous cutting or other serious forms of self-harm, it is absolutely crucial that you locate a comprehensive mental health treatment program for your son or daughter immediately.

So, What is Self-Harm?

According to the NCBI, “Self-harm is a complex group of behaviors that typically involves conscious decisions to mutilate or hurt oneself in the absence of suicidal intent.

Self-harm, also known as self-injury, means to purposely and impulsively harm yourself as a means of self-medicating. Teens are most likely to commit harm to themselves. As previously mentioned, cutting is the most common form of self-harm among teenage boys and girls.

Why do Teens Commit Self-Harm?

Self-harm typically occurs during adolescence and young adulthood (15-28). While self-harm is not considered to be a mental illness, it is often associated with some form of mental illness, namely, major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder (GAD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), eating disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As the National Association of Mental illness states, “hurting yourself - or even thinking of hurting yourself - is a sign of emotional distress. This is why teenage boys and girls, whose frontal lobe responsible for critical thinking is not yet fully developed, are especially prone to committing self-harming behaviors.

Generally plagued by immaturity and incapable of properly managing complex emotions - like that of depression or anxiety - teens who opt to cut or hurt themselves do so because the physical pain they feel after hurting themselves effectively, albeit fleetingly, masks the emotional pain they are unable to proactively and internally address.

Teens who have experienced trauma, neglect or physical/emotional abuse are at most risk of developing a self-harming habit. Additionally, teens who abuse alcohol or drugs are also at high risk of developing self-harming habits. In addition to their self-control being greatly diminished while using, drug-abusing teens are also at risk of committing self-harm due to the fact that they are likely suffering from a co-occurring mental illness.

A teen suffering from co-occurring disorders (two or more disorders such as addiction and mental illness) is a self-harm induced catastrophe waiting to happen. Moreover, parents of mentally ill and drug-abusing teens must seek immediate residential treatment for their child as failure to do so is likely to result in life-long, or even life-ending consequences.

The 5 Most Common Forms of Self-Harm Among American Teens

If you are the parent of a teenage boy or girl, it would behoove you to know what to look for in terms of self-destructive behaviors your teen may be susceptible to committing - and that includes self-harm. With that sentiment in mind, these are the ten most common forms of self-harm plaguing our nation’s youth:

Carving - (separate from cutting) this method of self-harming involves a teenager carving words or symbols into his or her skin. This particular self-harming behavior makes up an estimated 15% of those who self-harm.

Cutting - Not to be confused with carving, cutting involves a person using a sharp object to mutilate themselves. The damage that is typically caused by cutting is limited to most superficial flesh wounds that are small enough to easily hide from others. Cutting is the most common form of self-harm among teenagers and young adults and is most common among female teens/young adults.

Impact with Objects - This self-destructive behavior includes punching, throwing, or destroying objects with hands, head, feet, etc. to the point of causing bruising or bleeding. This form of self-harm makes up 37% of self-harm among young people.

Hair-pulling - Also known by its clinical classification, trichotillomania, hair pulling is when a teen impulsively tries to tear their hair from their head. In rare cases, the suffering person may even consume the hair they pull from their skull. This type of self-harm affects roughly 11% of young people who self-harm.

Ripping of the skin - Similar to cutting, or carving, ripping of the skin involves the mutilation of the skin. However, unlike carving or cutting, which involves the usage of sharp objects, ripping of the skin is committed by using one’s own hands to do harm. This behavior makes up just 16% of self-harm among young people.