adolescent self-harm

Adolescence can be a challenging period for both parents and their children. One of the distressing issues that may arise is mental-health-related self-harm.

Mental-health-related self-harm refers to deliberate acts of physical harm inflicted upon oneself as a response to emotional pain or distress. It is important to recognize that self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but rather a coping mechanism that individuals, particularly adolescents, may employ to alleviate their emotional anguish. Examples of self-harm include cutting, burning, scratching, or hitting oneself.

The Functions of Self-Harm

Self-harm often serves several functions for adolescents. Firstly, it can provide a temporary sense of control over overwhelming emotions, offering a release valve for internalized pain. Secondly, self-harm may function as a means of expressing deep-seated emotional distress when verbal communication feels challenging. Lastly, some individuals may engage in self-harm as a method of self-punishment, driven by feelings of guilt or shame.

The Dangers of Self-Harm

While self-harm may provide momentary relief, it is crucial to understand that it is not a healthy or sustainable coping mechanism. The physical risks associated with self-harm include infection, scarring, accidental severe injury, and the potential for escalation to more dangerous behaviours. Equally important are the psychological risks, such as increased feelings of guilt, shame, and a perpetuation of the underlying emotional turmoil.

Supporting Adolescents as Parents

Parents play a vital role in supporting their adolescents through mental-health-related self-harm. It is important to recognize that self-harm is typically not a one-off incident, and parents need to respond with support rather than punitive measures, as punishment may lead to the adolescent hiding their behaviour.

  1. Open Communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental space for your child to share their thoughts and emotions. Encourage open dialogue and active listening. Let them know that you are there to support them unconditionally.
  2. Seek Professional Help: Reach out to mental health professionals who can provide expert guidance and support tailored to your child’s needs. A trained therapist can help both you and your adolescent understand and navigate self-harm.
  3. Education and Understanding: Educate yourself about self-harm and mental health conditions to better comprehend your child’s experiences and challenges. This knowledge will allow you to approach the situation with empathy and sensitivity.
  4. Emotional Support: Offer empathy, understanding, and emotional validation to your child. Help them identify healthier coping strategies and provide reassurance that seeking help is a sign of strength. Encourage them to express their emotions and provide them with alternative outlets for managing stress and emotional pain.

Treatment Options

Various treatment options are available for adolescents struggling with mental-health-related self-harm. These may include:

  1. Therapy: Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), can help adolescents develop healthier coping mechanisms, and emotional regulation skills, and address underlying issues.
  2. Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that contribute to self-harm behaviours.
  3. Support Groups: Participating in support groups or group therapy sessions can provide a sense of belonging and connection with peers who have similar experiences.

As parents, it is crucial to approach mental-health-related self-harm with empathy, understanding, and professional support. By fostering open communication, seeking appropriate treatment options, and providing emotional support, parents can help their adolescents navigate the challenges of self-harm towards healthier coping mechanisms and improved mental well-being. Remember, you are not alone in this journey – reach out for support and guidance when needed.

Please note that this blog post by Personal Psychology is not intended to provide professional advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties, it is important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.