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People resort to different coping mechanisms to deal with distressful thoughts and emotions, some of which are healthy while others are harmful. Unfortunately, many tend to gravitate toward dangerous ways of managing stress and pain, including self-harm. If you injure yourself intentionally in any way and are unable to control yourself, you may have an addiction to self-harm. Self-injury is typically not the problem but a symptom of an underlying condition. Most people are not aware of what makes them harm themselves, and as a result, they cannot stop and continue to injure themselves. If you or a loved one is in a similar situation, seek treatment immediately, as self-harm can lead to potentially life-threatening situations.Like all other addictions, self-injury may require treatment at a rehabilitation centre. If you want to learn more about how to stop self-harming, continue reading this article.

Self-injury is usually a sign of unresolved feelings that may result from a history of trauma, low self-image, any failure, and stressful life situations. For many, it gives them a feeling of control over their emotions or a temporary fix. However, if you hurt yourself once, you will likely do it again. Is self-harming an addiction? There is an ongoing debate on applying the addiction model to self-injury, but experts have noticed patterns of harming oneself are similar to substance abuse. For instance, they develop tolerance and use more severe forms of self-abuse over time. People who self-harm also continue to hurt themselves even if they know how it may affect their mental and physical health. Therefore, self-harm requires treatment and rehabilitation services similar to other types of addictions.

If you think you are developing an addiction to self-harm, check if you have the following signs:

  • Finding it difficult to control the urge to inflict an injury
  • Consistently thinking about injuring oneself to feel something/feel better
  • Self-harming as a way of punishing yourself
  • Difficulty in focusing
  • Choosing certain types of clothes to hide self-injury scars/feeling ashamed to show your scars
  • Not being able to function without self-harm socially

While looking for these signs, do not forget there are different types of self-harm. You may not be able to tell if a person is inflicting injuries just by looking at scars as people may hurt themselves through other means such as:

  • Cutting and scratching
  • Burning
  • Drinking alcohol/substance abuse (this can include prescribed medication)
  • Excessive exercise or physical activity
  • Deliberately not eating/starving
  • Hitting head or punching oneself
  • Using toxic products for poisoning

If you are concerned about a loved one who may be self-harming, do not look only for scars but other signs as well. For instance, check for changes in the behaviour of your friend or relative. If they are suddenly distant, neglecting their responsibilities, avoiding social events and spending a lot more time alone, there is a chance they may be hurting themselves while processing their emotions. Also, look for other symptoms like wardrobe changes, shifts in eating patterns, personal hygiene, modified exercise routines or increased physical activity.

Most risk factors for self-harm are similar to those of committing suicide. These include:

  • Coexisting mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, or personality disorders
  • Belonging to the LGBT community
  • History of bullying
  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • History of family violence of adversity
  • Having one or more family members diagnosed with mental health issues
  • Underdeveloped emotional IQ and social skills
  • Living in a single-parent household
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Childhood trauma
  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Certain mental health traits, such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, and hopelessness

Generally, females, particularly between 12 and 24 years of age, are much more likely to harm themselves than males.

Self-harm is not usually recognised as a psychiatric disorder. Instead, most experts consider it as a sign that the afflicted person needs help coping. The assessment to judge the need for a rehabilitation or a treatment program includes carefully evaluating the patient’s health history, such as:

  • The type of injuries that have taken place
  • The severity of injuries
  • Other emotions or behaviours associated with these injuries

Another assessment usually follows this to determine if the afflicted individual suffers from a co-existing psychiatric condition. A risk assessment for suicidal ideation is also carried out to ensure the individual is safe. Once these assessments are finished, a suitable treatment plan is curated to treat the symptoms and the causative triggers through various medical and non-medical therapies.

It is a common misconception that rehabs only cater to people who are involved in substance abuse. They also provide services for other conditions, including self-harm addiction. If you are thinking about getting help for your problem, joining a facility may be the solution. This is because rehabilitation centres offer structured programs designed mainly for your needs. 

The type of these programs usually varies depending on the complexity and severity of the condition. Some people benefit from outpatient programs, meaning they only go to rehab for a fixed amount of time daily. On the other hand, those with more severe issues or possible risk of suicide are usually offered a more structured treatment approach which may involve living inside the rehab for the entire length of treatment.

A good treatment program focuses on helping clients develop coping mechanisms, manage any underlying stress, and learn healthy communication skills to well-regulate their surging emotions. Family and individual therapy, DBT, trauma-focused therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and CBT for self-harm are also commonly included in these programs. Some clients also benefit from medications, especially if they suffer from a co-existing issue like depression.

The care team responsible for effective care delivery typically include psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists, and other therapists. These are highly trained and experienced in their relevant fields so that there is no compromise on the quality of treatment.

As mentioned before, self-harm is treatable using different strategies. However, recovering is only possible if you seek help on time. Delaying medical attention does not only prolong the treatment time but also elevates the risk of life-threatening situations. As self-harm tends to get more intense over time as a person develops tolerance, the result can be a fatal injury. In addition, prolonged self-injury can also increase the chances of developing more problems such as mental disorders and substance abuse. A person with various problems may find the treatment more challenging and struggle to hold back even after recovery. To avoid all these complications, join a rehabilitation centre and get professional help immediately. If you are worried about a loved one and are wondering how to help with self-harm, consider expressing your concerns. Discuss the issue in detail slowly and try to convince your loved one to join a rehab for self-harm.

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