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Signs and Risk Factors of Self-Harm in Youth

Self-harm wrist covered with bandage

In the United States, approximately 15% of teens report that they have attempted or engaged in some form of self-injury. Self-harming behaviors are when a person inflicts injury on to themselves and can occur most commonly by youth who are struggling with emotional distress.

Some of the most common methods include, but are not limited to, cutting the skin with a knife or sharp object, burning, pulling out hairs, head banging or hitting and picking at the wound.

Youth from all types of backgrounds and demographics can engage in self-harming behavior. However, youth who have experienced trauma are more likely to consider self-harm.

Why do youth self-injure?

The desire to self-harm can stem from feelings of depression and anxiety. Self-harm can also be a symptom of a mental health disorder. Loneliness, inability to express one’s feelings or a loss of control in one’s life can lead a teen to self-harm. This behavior is their way of coping with these difficult emotions and relieving pain, but self-harm is not a normal adolescent behavior and should be viewed as a cry for help.

Youth at risk for self-harm

All children and teens can all be at risk for self-injurious behavior. If you know a youth experiencing or exhibiting any of the below, they may be at risk for self-harming behavior:

  • Being bullied
  • Low self-esteem
  • Experienced trauma, neglect and/or abuse
  • Difficulty in school or at home

Many risks can accompany self-injurious behaviors in addition to the psychical harm that results from cutting, burning and hitting. Self-harm also causes a feeling of shame in those who self-injure, which can lead to making unhealthy choices involving drug and alcohol abuse. Youth who self-harm are more likely to experience untreated depression, enter into harmful relationships and have suicidal ideation.

Warning Signs of Self-Harm

Most often, self-harm is hidden and not public. These behavioral and psychical warning signs are important to be aware of if you think a child is self-harming:

  • Having unexplained and frequent injuries
  • Having random sharp objects or lighters
  • Inappropriate clothing (for example long sleeves wrong in hot weather to cover injuries)
  • Shifts in school grades or home life
  • Difficulty handling feelings

How to Help

If you believe your child is self-harming or showing signs of depression, do not to ignore it. Gently talk with your child about the situation and show them support and love throughout the entire conversation. The next step is to is to seek help from a mental health provider, therapist and/or psychiatrist.

self-harm advice from Dr. Naveed of KVC Hospitals

Dr. Naveed

“During these moments when a parent or a caregiver is wanting their child to get help, it is so important to be sensitive to their feelings and not place blame on the youth or oneself,” says Dr. Sadiq Naveed, Associate Medical Director at KVC Hospitals.

“If the youth is ready to talk about their self-harm, sit down, listen, and validate their feelings. If the person is not ready to talk with their parents, another family member and friend can help. Self-harm can also emotionally affect caregivers, so it is important for them to take care of their own mental health.”

Available Treatment for Self-Injury

Self-harm can effectively be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication. It is important to speak with a mental health provider who can perform an assessment and create a plan of care. Medication can help manage depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors that often come with self-injury. Along with medication, behavioral therapy is used to teach youth how to manage their feelings and find healthier ways to cope with emotions.

If you believe your child or teen is engaging in self-harm and needs professional help, contact us to learn about our behavioral health treatment at (913) 890-7468, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) immediately.