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Self-Harm Treatment, Co-Occurring Disorders, Symptoms & Causes

We Level Up FL mental health center offers free self-harm treatment assessment to help you determine suitability. Call us to learn more.

What is Self Harm?

Self-harm or self-injury means hurting yourself on purpose. It is the act of intentionally injuring oneself, most often through cutting. Self-harm is not always a suicide attempt. Furthermore, it is not just for attention.

Rather, this type of self-injury is a harmful way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration. In any event, it’s important to know that self-harm treatment is available for anyone who suffers from this condition.

The US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health [1] says Self Harm cases can be difficult to adequately define, understand, and treat. However, self-harm diagnosis is not uncommonly encountered in clinical practice. In general, self-harm or self-mutilation may be defined as any self-directed, repetitive behavior that causes physical injury.

There are many ways to self-harm. Likewise, self-harming can be an emotional or mental response. Such as the inability to function after losing a loved one. A person who self-harms might injure themselves by banging their head against a wall or hurting themselves with an object. In addition self-harming behaviors also include starving oneself and avoiding contact with others, like family members and friends.

The most common type of self-harm involves cutting or scratching the skin. Similarly, the most common locations for self-harm are on the arms, legs, or abdomen. Some people cut themselves in a way that requires medical attention and Self-harm treatment. Self-harm can also be a sign of an underlying issue like depression, anxiety, or a history of abuse. Moreover, people who self-harm may feel like they don’t deserve any help and try to hide what they do from others.

Symptoms of Self-harm

  • Cutting yourself
  • Poisoning yourself
  • Over-eating or under-eating
  • Exercising excessively
  • Biting yourself
  • Picking or scratching at your skin
  • Burning your skin
  • Inserting objects into your body
  • Hitting yourself or walls
  • Misusing alcohol, prescription and recreational drugs
  • Pulling your hair
  • Having unsafe sex
  • Getting into fights where you know you will get hurt.
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After self-harming, you may feel a short-term sense of release. However, the cause of your distress will not easily go away. Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions. In return, it could make you feel worse.

Why Do People Self Harm?

“Why do people harm themselves?” This is a question that many mental health professionals have been trying to answer for over thirty years now during self-harm treatment sessions. Self-harm is typically used as an emotion regulation tool by those who are struggling with intense emotional pain. Self-harming behaviors are often the product of someone’s need to cope with negative emotions, thoughts or memories.

Physical pain can sometimes be easier to deal with compared to psychological turmoil. Self-harm is said to temporarily reduce feelings of emptiness and distress brought on by overwhelming emotions. Self-harm can also distract from difficult circumstances in life, triggering endorphin production in the brain that results in feelings of euphoria.

Self-harm is most often associated with depression but it can be present in those who suffer from anxiety and eating disorders as well. Self-harm can lead to death if left untreated and may decrease the odds of getting an individual the help that they need. Self-harm is often seen as a negative coping mechanism but it doesn’t have to be treated as such by mental health professionals, in self-harm treatment, professionals try to figure out the different causes of self-harm.

Causes of Self-Harm

According to Psychiatric Times [2], self-harm reflects underlying hopelessness and low self-esteem. All patients who exhibit recent or chronic self-harming behaviors need a careful and meticulous evaluation. This is to determine the best-individualized treatment strategies.

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A difficult experience can cause someone to self-harm. Common reasons include: 

  • Pressures at school or work 
  • Bullying 
  • Money worries 
  • Sexual, physical or emotional abuse 
  • Bereavement 
  • Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (see LGBTIQ+ mental health) 
  • Breakdown of a relationship 
  • Loss of a job 
  • An illness or health problem 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • An increase in stress 
  • Difficult feelings, such as depression, anxiety, anger or numbness

Management principles of self-harm scars

The scars are emotional symbols, not purely physical changes. Self-harm can often be associated with feelings of guilt and regret as well as body image disturbance. The consensus among practitioners is that treatment for Self-harm scars is complex and requires a multidisciplinary approach.

Self-harm scars can be difficult to disguise and can become prominent if inappropriately managed. A multidisciplinary approach is often needed to obtain the best cosmetic result. Self-harming behavior may indicate a more serious psychological disorder, but treatment will usually involve reassurance of the patient and encouragement to seek help.

There are various treatments for self-harm scars including camouflage approaches, laser resurfacing, surgery (e.g., removing certain scars), ‘artificial skin’ techniques, tissue expansion (stretching), and skin grafts.

Self-harm Treatment Modalities

There are effective self-harm treatments that help a person to return to a productive life. Psychotherapy is important to any self-harm treatment plan. Hence, a person will need to learn new coping mechanisms. As an example of psychotherapy, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common. It involves sessions with a therapist to talk about thoughts and feelings. As a result, it can help you to see how these affect your behavior and wellbeing. Evidence suggests these kinds of treatments can be effective in the long term for people who self-harm.

The self-harm treatment plan may involve medication, in combination with psychotherapy, only if involves mental health problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Self-harm Treatment and Co-Ocurring Issues

There is substantive theoretical literature suggesting that NSSI Non-Suicidal Self-Injury or self-harm can be understood as a behavioral addiction. However, very few empirical studies testing this compelling hypothesis exist, [3] according to Science Direct. Self-harm, like drug and alcohol addiction, can be addictive in and of itself.  Therefore, making it hard, if not impossible, to completely stop on your own. Without treatment that targets the root issues of both primary and secondary problems, the struggles of primary self-harm disorder and secondary addiction disorder could likely lead to death.

Stimulants can promote self-harm both during and after use. Examples are stimulant drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription medications for ADHD. However, the process may be different in people who suffer from addiction. Drugs or alcohol may be used to cover the sense of guilt on self-harming. Thus, they may be used as an additional poor coping mechanism to escape from emotions. Also, they may be used as their own form of self-harm.

Studies point out that psychiatric patients who self-harmed while abusing substances had depressed levels of consciousness. Many of these patients had a history of self-harm, and some intended to eventually die from their self-inflicted injuries. Untreated depression or mental illnesses lead to these unhealthy coping mechanisms or worse— suicide. Self-harm can contribute to a cycle of endless despair. We Level Up FL mental health center offers free self-harm treatment assessment to help you determine suitability. Call us to learn more.

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[1] US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health –

[2] Psychiatric Times –

[3] Science Direct –