Self-harm, self-mutilation or self-injury behaviour all mean an action that is deliberate on the part of the adolescent to hurt or injure themselves. Self-harming behaviour is usually not an attempt from the adolescent to commit suicide, however does suggest that the teenager is struggling with underlying emotional issues. Depression and suicidal ideation, should however, never be discounted as for some teenagers this is a real concern. Teenagers who engage in this behaviour may partake in other risky behaviours such as alcohol and drug use.
One particular phenomena related to self-harming behaviour is that is can become contagious in that it is common for teenagers to ‘copy’ or try fit in with their peers. It thus becomes ‘cool’ or trendy and self-harming behaviour can occur more prolifically when others in the peer group start engaging in this type of behaviour.
There is not one particular reason why teenagers self-harm. It generally suggests emotional turmoil brought about by several factors such as the following:
Inability to deal with emotional difficulties, such as relationship difficulties or problems within the family (such as not getting on with siblings, parent/s, step-parents etc.);
- Feelings of distress, anger, frustration, guilt
- Feelings of having ‘no control’ over their lives;
- Poor self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness;
- Clinical disorders such as depression, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder;
- Inability to deal with stress;
- Feelings of pressure (academics, sports or from peers);
- Inability to express feelings in a healthy way;
- Loneliness and feelings of isolation;
- Wanting the attention of people who can help them;
- Spending with time with individuals who self-harm; and
- History of abuse or of having experienced a traumatic event.
Self-injury can become addictive and progressively serious. Teenagers who self-harm have difficulty asking for help. It is therefore important for caregivers and teachers to look out for this behaviour and seek the help of a psychologist.
If you are looking for a psychologist working with teenagers contact the Sandton Psychology Centre in Johannesburg. A psychologist will evaluate the nature and severity of the difficulty and the underlying causes of the self-harm behaviour. In addition the psychologist will help the teenager deal with their emotions, communicating effectively and any other coping resources they may require.