The month of March is Self-Injury Awareness Month, and it is intended to raise awareness of warning signs associated with self-harm as well as diminish the stigma surrounding it. Even though self-harm is commonly associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors, it is also possible for an individual to engage in non-suicidal self-injury. Even if self-injury is non-suicidal, there is still a risk of suicidal behavior. The facts below emphasize the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in today’s society:
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the third leasing cause of death in youths.
- There is one death by suicide every 12 minutes.
- In the U.S., 4.8 percent of adults have reported serious thoughts of committing suicide.
- Approximately 48,000 individuals die by suicide every year.
Psychological treatment given by mental health professionals like psychologists or psychiatrists has been found to be an effective treatment for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Treatment may focus on addressing and treating suicidal thoughts and behaviors directly but can also focus on self-harm specifically. A common intervention method to treat individuals at high risk of suicide or non-suicidal self-injury is dialectical behavior therapy. It is common for suicidal thoughts and behaviors to co-occur with other mental disorders such as depression or borderline personality disorder. In this case, the mental health professional will modify treatment to address the mental illness as well as the risk of suicide. Other types of treatment include medical and educational treatment.
Self-Harm and Suicide: Risk Factors
There is no singular reason as to why an individual engages in self-harm or suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Several risk factors associated with self-harm and suicidality include, but are not limited to:
- History of mental illness
- Previous suicide attempts
- Family history of suicide, violence, or abuse
- Serious illness
- Stress from a job, family, significant relationships, etc.
- Suicidal behaviors from family members, peers, or media
- Age — individuals 15 to 24 years old or over the age of 60 are most at risk for engaging in suicide-related behaviors
Self-Harm and Suicide: Red Flags
Certain behaviors may indicate that someone is engaging in suicidal or non-suicidal self-injury. Being aware of these red flags can help determine if you or someone you know may be in need of help. Some red flags may include:
- Feeling hopeless
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Change in eating habits
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Extreme mood swings
- Alcohol, drug, or substance abuse
- Giving personal possessions away
- Risk-taking behaviors
Self-Harm and Suicide: Coping Strategies
Engaging in self-injurious behavior can be an attempt to cope with psychological distress, often caused by life’s stressors. There are healthy alternative coping options to replace the act of self-harm, such as:
- Release energy or tension: Go for a walk or the gym, do yoga, pop bubble wrap, or squeeze a stress ball.
- Create something new: Write a poem, draw a picture, vent in a diary, take photos of things you like.
- Start something new: Read a book, take up a new hobby (gardening, sewing, skateboarding), start a new TV show, cook something you’ve never made before.
- Relax: Take a bath or shower, paint your nails, take a nap, or meditate.
- Keep things you may use to self-harm locked away: As you are attempting to unlock the box, you give yourself time to remind yourself not to self-harm.
- Seek help: Talking to a mental health professional can aid in reducing the urge and desire to engage in self-injurious thoughts and behaviors.
Message to the Public
Choosing to stop suicidal or non-suicidal self-injury is an uphill battle that requires a lot of commitment and support. If you or someone you know has shown signs of mental distress, self-harm, or suicidal tendencies, do not wait to seek help. If you or a loved one require help for self-harm or suicidal thoughts and behaviors, reach out to the crisis lines and resources listed below.
Tropical Texas Behavioral Center: (956) 289-7000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Self-harm crisis text line: text HELLO to 741741
Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Amanda Palomin, Andy Torres, Pablo Ruiz, Sandra Chapa, Stephanie Navarro, and Maria Sevilla-Matos.