Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm refers to the intentional act of causing physical harm to oneself. It is a maladaptive coping mechanism used to deal with emotional pain, numbness, or distress. It can involve behaviors such as cutting, burning, scratching, hitting oneself, or other methods causing injury to oneself. Self-harm could also be a sign of an underlying mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, or borderline personality disorder.

Some individuals may use self-harm as a way to cope and feel relief from emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, and numbness. As noted, self-harm can provide a temporary release from intense feelings, however, the relief is short-lived and it could lead to self-harm urges in the future. At the same time, other individuals may engage in self-harm as a way to feel a sense of control or to punish themselves for perceived failures. It is crucial to note that self-harm is not a healthy or effective coping mechanism and that it can be dangerous and at times even life-threatening. If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harm, it is important to seek professional help to address the underlying emotional issues and learn more effective ways of coping with difficult emotions. Some underlying conditions that could involve self-harm include:

  • Depression: often linked to depression is a common risk factor for self-harm behavior due to the overwhelming emotional experience that individuals with this condition undergo. Depression may lead to overwhelming intense emotions, such as sadness, hopelessness, irritability, or worthlessness. Self-harm can provide a temporary sense of relief from the emotional burden, although only in the short term. Additionally, people with depression may struggle with a negative self-image, which can exacerbate the desire to engage in self-harm.
  • Anxiety: self-harm and anxiety are also linked as anxiety can trigger or exacerbate feelings of distress or overwhelm, leading some individuals to turn to self-harm as a way to cope with these intense emotions. Anxiety can take many forms, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and each of these can cause unique symptoms and triggers. Individuals with a generalized anxiety disorder may experience persistent worry or fear that interferes with daily life, while those with panic disorder may experience sudden and intense panic attacks that can be very frightening. Interestingly, individuals with generalized anxiety disorder are at greater risk for self-harm.
  • Trauma can cause intense emotional pain and distress which some individuals may attempt to cope with through self-harm. Trauma can take many forms, such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or witnessing or experiencing violence, and can have long-lasting effects on a person’s mental health. Individuals who have experienced trauma may struggle with symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behaviors, and irritability, which can be overwhelming and difficult to manage. These symptoms can also trigger feelings of shame, guilt, or worthlessness. Additionally, self-harm may also be a way for individuals to regain a sense of control over their bodies. This can provide a temporary sense of relief from powerlessness.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition strongly linked to self-harm behavior. Individuals with BPD often struggle with intense emotions, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety, and may experience impulsivity. In addition, people with BPD often have a strong fear of abandonment or rejection, which can cause intense emotional distress and lead to impulsive self-destructive behaviors. Self-harm may be a way for individuals with BPD to cope with negative mood states.

In conclusion, self-harm is a maladaptive coping mechanism and it is a serious issue that could have significant physical and emotional consequences. In some cases, it could lead to habitual coping mechanisms which could display similar patterns to addiction. If you or someone you know engages in self-harm behavior, it is important to seek professional help to address underlying emotional issues and develop healthier ways of coping. If the person does not accept professional help but you still want to help the person, try talking to them and tell them they can count on you and reach you whenever they feel the urge to self-harm.

If you are experiencing severe or prolonged symptoms or have any thoughts of committing self-harm, you should consider seeking help from a mental health professional. In Prague, Czech Republic there is the psychiatric hospital Bohnice and the crisis centrum Riaps.

Psychiatric Hospital Bohnice

Ústavní 91, 181 02 Praha 8, Česká republika

Tel.: +420 284 016 111
Fax: +420 284 016 595
Web: www.bohnice.cz
E-mail: podatelna(zavináč)bohnice.cz

Centrum sociálních služeb Praha

Žilinská 2769/2, Praha 4

E-mail: cssp@csspraha.cz

Telefon: 222 581 290

By Marta Padron Pena, Mental Health Intern

References:

Chartrand, H., Sareen, J., Toews, M., & Bolton, J. M. (2012). Suicide attempts versus nonsuicidal self-injury among individuals with anxiety disorders in a nationally representative sample. Depression and Anxiety, 29(3), 172–179. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20882

Gurung, K. (2018). Bodywork: Self-harm, trauma, and embodied expressions of pain. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 17(1), 32–47. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474022216684634

Lundh, L. G., Wångby-Lundh, M., Paaske, M., Ingesson, S., & Bjärehed, J. (2011). Depressive symptoms and deliberate self-harm in a community sample of adolescents: a prospective study. Depression Research and Treatment, 2011, 935871. https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/935871 

Paris, J. (2005) Understanding self-mutilation in borderline personality disorder. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 13(3), 179-185. Doi: 10.1080/10673220591003614

The truth about self-harm. (n.d.). Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/publications/truth-about-self-harm

 

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