It is frightening as a parent or caregiver to see a teenager participating in any form of self-injury. We know that it is always to be considered as a serious issue. So a common question to ask is does self-injury mean that a teenager will continue in this behavior until they commit a serious injury or even commit suicide?
The statistics on suicide among teenagers are pervasive which makes this discussion very relevant for today in our youth culture.
There is a resource book on this topic by Janis Whitlock, PhD, and Elizabeth Lloyd-Richard, PhD. entitled Healing Self-Injury: A Compassion Gide for Parents and Other Loved Ones. On the Child Mind Institute website there is an excerpt from the book which is a brief summary on the topic including helpful information on this very serious issue. A part of the excerpt reads as follows:
It’s not unusual for young people who are struggling with painful feelings to engage in self-injury — things such as cutting, burning or scratching themselves until they bleed. Knowing that a child is intent on harming herself is very upsetting to parents, and many worry that self-injury is a sign that their child is suicidal.
Self-injury and suicidal behaviors — imagining, planning or attempting suicide — are related, but the relationship between the two is confusing. Because they can look similar, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between them. But there are important differences in the intention as well as the danger: Self-injury is virtually always used to feel better rather than to end one’s life. Indeed, some people who self-injure are clear that it helps them to avoid suicide. In fact, the technical term for self-injury is non-suicidal self-injury, or NSSI.
Here is the link to the entire excerpt. Obviously if you know of a teenager who is involved in self-injury it is important that they receive therapeutic help from a capable professional as soon as possible. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to get them to participate in any form of therapy. However self-injury is a way to deal with their own pain and the more we know about that pain the more we can provide helpful strategies for coping with whatever emotions they are experiencing. It is helpful to have all the resources we can to understand such a confusing and scary set of behaviors.