Suicide and Self-Harm

Self-harm is also known as self-injury or self-mutilation. It is the act of deliberately hurting or injuring yourself by cutting, burning, or beating your head or fists against a wall, among other methods. Suicide is the act of ending of one’s own life. The two have very different intentions and outcomes, although people who harm themselves may go on to take their own life.

People who are suicidal feel hopeless, worthless, and are desperate to escape the pain of living. They see no other alternative than ending a life that only promises more suffering. People who harm themselves view their actions as a way of coping with life. The self-infliction of pain helps numb the feeling of being disconnected with the world, and may make them feel alive. Self-harm can also provide a “rush” due to changes in brain chemistry, a highly addictive and dangerous consequence of the practice. Self-injury may generate its own stress, since it is usual kept secret.

Signs & Symptoms

People who self-injure usually prefer to hide their activity, so the symptoms are not usually readily apparent. Your loved one may have this problem if he or she:

• Prefers to wear concealing clothing at all times (such as long sleeves in hot weather)
• Often complains of accidental injury
• Has questionable or numerous scars from cutting or burning
• Possesses sharp objects like razorblades or other instruments used to self- injure

People who are suicidal may give warning signals. They include:

• Threatening to commit suicide
• Talking about having no reason to live, wanting to die or to kill oneself
• A preoccupation with death
• Expressing feelings about being a burden to others
• Acting anxious or behaving recklessly
• Isolation or withdrawal
• Displaying mood swings
• Telling loved ones goodbye
• Settling one's final affairs
• Giving things away, including prized possessions
• Referring to death via poetry, writings and drawings
• Exhibiting extreme changes in personality or appearance

Tips & Recommendations

Most people who self-harm actually do want to stop hurting themselves. To do this, they need to develop new skills for coping and communicating. There are also self-help techniques that can help one forestall the behavior. A nationally-recognized self-harm help program is S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self-Abuse Finally Ends). This is a professional network and educational resource devoted to helping people stop self-mutilation.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTS) can help you or a loved one develop new coping and communication skills that can put an end to self-harm.

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Rebekah L. Driessen, M.A.

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I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working with children, families, and individual adults. One of my specialties is a play-based approach to family therapy (Filial Therapy) with children 3-10 that addresses emotional and behavioral issues and builds children's and parents' confidence, resilience, and well-being. I also offer individual Focusing-oriented Therapy and guided Inner Relationship Focusing sessions for adults, individual Play Therapy for children, and incorporate Expressive Arts Therapy.

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