Self-injury is the act of deliberately harming body tissue, at times to change how a person is feeling. The causes and severity of self-injury can vary. Some forms may include:
- Picking and pulling skin and hair
- Head banging
Some adolescents may self-mutilate to take risks, rebel, reject their parents’ values, state their individuality, or merely be accepted.
Others may injure themselves out of desperation or anger to seek attention, to show their hopelessness and worthlessness, or because they have suicidal thoughts. These children may suffer from serious psychiatric problems such as depression, psychosis, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder.
Some young children may resort to self-injurious acts from time to time, but often grow out of it. Children with developmental delays and/or autism spectrum disorder as well as children who have been abused or abandoned may also show these behaviors.
Why do adolescents self-injure?
Self-injury is a complex behavior and symptom that can result from a variety of factors. Adolescents who have difficulty talking about their feelings may show their emotional tension, physical discomfort, pain, and low self-esteem with self-injurious behaviors. The effects of peer pressure and contagion can also influence adolescents to injure themselves. Occasionally, teenagers may hide their scars, burns, and bruises due to feeling embarrassed, rejected, or criticized about their physical appearance.
Treatment for Self-Injury
If you are concerned about self-injury in a child or adolescent, start by talking with your family doctor or pediatrician. They should be able to refer you to a qualified mental health professional for evaluation and treatment. Effective treatment is available to help children stop harming themselves and learn to manage any underlying feelings, trauma, or mental/behavioral health conditions that may be causing the behavior.
Feelings of wanting to die or kill themselves are reasons for adolescents (or their parents/caregivers) to seek professional care immediately. You can call or text 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 24/7/365 for immediate support from a trained counselor. In Connecticut, you can also call 211 and press 1 for immediate crisis support or visit 211CT.org.
Learn more about the risk factors, causes, and symptoms of self-injury in children and teens at the AACAP website, linked below: