What can one do when the feelings of desperation and a cry for help cannot be formed into words? Self–injury is often what occurs. People may not even realize it that someone so close to them can be a self–injurer.

Self–injury is not something to be afraid of if someone close to you does it. It is important to try to understand and help them through this difficult time.

Self–injury can be described as an addiction. Being a self–injurer can be compared to being an alcoholic. The alcoholic can choose to put the drink down and get help or pick up to drink and continue to drink their problems away. Similarly, the choice to pick up the blade is simple. They can choose to leave the blade sitting there and to go and get help, or simply pick it up and make the cut and continue to suffer through their pain.

Self–injury comes in many forms, just like drinks do for an alcoholic. Cutting the skin, extracting hair, scratching to excess, burning oneself, interfering with the healing of wounds, and chewing of the lips, tongue, or fingers are all forms of self–injury.

People who have never self–injured, or are curious about what exactly self-injury is, all have the same question: How does self–injury arise? Self–injury is simply an impulse triggered by an event that then triggers different emotions. Sometimes an argument, abuse, or just a bad test score can trigger the impulse. In many cases, mental health problems play a key role in self–injury. Some of these mental health conditions include: depression (most common), bipolar disorder, eating disorder, obsessive thinking, and compulsive behaviors. While diagnosis is not always the way to go, it does help provide a pathway for patients who need help with self–injury.

According to Dr. Karen Conterio and Dr. Wendy Lader, authors of Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers, many self-injury patients report feeling lonely, worthless, and confused before self–injuring. While injuring, emotions of relief, control, and satisfaction are felt. After self–injury, the feelings of guilt, shame, and being pathetic are felt. These people cannot control their addiction because that is what self–injury has become to them: an addiction.

People who aren't self–injurers often wonder what can happen to people who self–injure. When self–injurers perform their act of injury, they are not trying to permanently hurt themselves or to keep on cutting once they start. It just happens. The cuts are not meant to be so deep that medical attention is sought to get stitches. Often doctors and nurses will think the patient is suicidal because they see the wound alongside past scars from injury. Self–injury is not an attempt at suicide. This is something that most people assume about self–injurers, but it is actually an attempt at feeling better.

The people who self-injure have not developed healthy ways to cope with things that make them turn to cutting, burning, or whatever their self–injury method may be. Sometimes a cut or burn goes too far and the self–injurer needs to seek medical attention at a hospital. Nurses or doctors who are not well educated on self–injury may believe that this patient is suicidal and will treat them differently by getting a social worker to sit outside or inside their room. If you have ever been to the ER, you may have seen this. It is important for health care professionals to be educated on this addiction so they can help their patient seek help.

According to Dr. Janis Whitlock of Cornell University, there are several things for health care professionals to look for and to do:

  • Check the wound to make sure it won't become infectious
  • Look to see how severe the injuries are and if there are any more anywhere else or any scars
  • Talk to the patient and see how they are feeling and ask the patient what is going on
  • Treat them like a human being
  • Check for mental health history
  • Lastly, if all else fails do a suicide assessment on the patient and record the results and share them with the patient and talk about ways to receive treatment or help

The media shows us every day how flawless celebrities are and how people are supposed to look. Accordingly, cosmetic surgery is a form of self-injury. Women like to get breast enlargements, liposuction, and silicon injected into their lips, cheeks, and buttocks. There are people who are addicted to the tattoos and piercings simply because they like the pain of the needle. Sometimes these people go to what is called extreme body modification. Things considered extreme would be tongue splitting, suspension hooks in shoulder muscles, and genital piercings. All self–mutilations can become dangerous with infections that can become deadly; however, that is a risk some people are willing to take.

Self-injurers are just like everyone else, except they have the secret of injury. When you find out that a friend of loved one is self–injuring, yelling and making them feel worse than they already do will not help the self–injurer in any way. If you want to help it is important for them to know that you may not know what they are going through but they do not have to go through it alone and that you are here to help and support them when needed.