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Self-harm: Not just a concern for teens

Posted on 03-02-16 in Behavioral Health

Self-harm: Not just a concern for teens

Self-harm — also known as non-suicidal self-injury — is commonly thought to be an issue reserved for adolescents. On news stations, we hear stories about how to keep our teens from self-harming. On TV shows, we see images of young girls cutting into their skin and then lying about it to their parents.

Despite what many of us have been led to believe, self-harm is not a problem exclusive to adolescents. Adults often struggle with self-injury as well, and the stigma that it is only a “teen problem” makes them less likely to seek help.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is defined as deliberately causing injury to oneself without suicidal intent.

Some examples of self-harm include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Scratching
  • Skin-picking
  • Hair-pulling
  • Hitting or bruising

People who self-harm usually do so because the injuries result in a rush of endorphins, feel-good chemicals that can mitigate emotional trauma. Researchers even suspect that people who self-harm have lower levels of endorphins than the general population, suggesting that they may be using self-harm in an effort to recover the lost endorphins and feel “normal.”

Even though people who self-harm are not suicidal, often their injuries can be severe and may result in infections, permanent injuries or even death. People who self-harm are also more likely to be struggling with a psychiatric illness that — if untreated — can significantly diminish their quality of life.

Self-harm and adults

Teens aren’t the only people who experience a rush of endorphins after an injury, and adults who are born with low levels of endorphins don’t magically gain more of them as they get older. Adults also are more likely to have developed a psychiatric illness over the course of their lifetime, raising the risk of developing an unhealthy coping mechanism.

In other words? Adults can self-harm, too.

Unfortunately, adults who self-harm tend to be even more secretive than teens. Since they’re older, they’re better at hiding their wounds. They may also live alone, which makes it easier to keep their self-harm behavior secret. Adults who self-harm may also feel embarrassed that they’re struggling with a “teen problem,” even though self-harm is by no means restricted to adolescents. They may be reluctant to share their issues with a doctor.

As part of Self-Injury Awareness Day (March 1), we urge adults who self-harm to seek help. You are not abnormal or immature. You are not “just seeking attention.” Psychological intervention may help you regain control of your life, your brain and your body.

The Sovereign Health Group’s professional staff offers numerous, evidence-based programs designed to benefit our patients. Prior to admission, all patients receive an accurate assessment of all diagnosed conditions as well as any underlying conditions that may be further impacting their mental health. For more information, contact us at our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at