What are the short- and long-term effects of self-harm?

When you’re struggling to cope with the problems and changes that life throws at you, you can feel overwhelming negative emotions that seem like they will never go away. And while there are many safe ways to find relief from distress, some people turn to more dangerous coping mechanisms.

Self-harm behaviors are not the same as suicidality, but they need to be treated just as seriously. While this behavior is often described as a way to find short-term relief from emotions, the effects aren’t always as temporary. 

Read on to learn the basics and different types of self-harm behavior. You’ll also learn about treatment options and the potential long-term effects if the behavior goes untreated.

The basics of self-harm

Self-harm behavior, sometimes referred to as self-injury, describes any physical behavior that a person does to intentionally inflict harm upon themselves. It’s often used as a coping mechanism in response to feeling intense negative emotions with the belief that the harmful behavior will provide relief. 

It is common for people who have inflicted self-injury report experiencing a sense of calmness before shame takes over. They believe it will help when they feel like things in their life are out of their control, and the harmful behavior is a way to take some of that control back. It’s often used as a way to feel something if you’re experiencing feelings of numbness or emptiness, especially if you believe you deserve to be punished for something that occurred, or is occurring, in your life. 

Self-injury can also stem from mental health disorders including:

Types and symptoms of self-harm

There are many ways that someone could inflict self-injury. Some ways involve the use of external tools, such as sharp blades on the skin, or they could use their own hands to apply blunt force to their body.

The most common types of self-injury include:

  • Cutting
  • Scratching
  • Burning
  • Puncturing skin with sharp objects
  • Wound picking
  • Pulling out hair
  • Self-hitting

Symptoms of self-injury are often visible through scratches, cuts or bruises on the skin. But there are ways to tell that people try to hide their behavior as well as mental and psychological symptoms that are linked with it.

Signs and symptoms of self-injury include:

  • Unexplained scratches, cuts, wounds or bruises
  • Long sleeves and pants in hot weather
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Impulsivity
  • Issues with interpersonal relationships
  • Unpredictability

The importance of treating self-harm behavior: Short-term and long-term effects

Similar to any sort of mental health disorder, self-harm behavior should be addressed and treated as soon as possible to decrease the risk of it becoming a habit that could lead to more severe behavior and wounds.

Self-injury behaviors are characterized by physical injury. So the short-term consequences of self-injury include potential infections or nerve damage. It can also cause social problems, as a person who self-harms may isolate themselves from others due to shame and guilt about their physical wounds.

If the harmful behavior is left untreated, the behavior can become more frequent and severe, leading to more serious injuries and scarring. This can also increase the risk of suicide.

How to treat self-harm behavior 

When you’re self-harming, there are several treatment options that you can explore; the most effective ones are accomplished through psychotherapy and medication. It’s important to remember that this harmful behavior is often linked to a diagnosable mental health disorder that requires professional mental health care assistance.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one of the most effective treatment options utilized by therapists for a variety of mental health issues, including self-injury. This therapy method helps you rework the way that your thoughts, emotions and actions interact with one another. This means that you can determine the process of how your thoughts lead to emotions that result in self-injury. Then you can learn to adjust that process to decrease your symptoms.

Medication is an effective counterpart to therapy to treat the mental health disorders that are connected to your harmful behaviors. A therapist will prescribe you medication based on the severity of your circumstances, mental health disorder diagnosis and medical history. 

If you self-injure due to suicidal thoughts, immediately contact emergency services, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988, or admit yourself into an inpatient psychiatric hospital.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help treat self-harming behaviors

If you believe that the best way to cope with your mental and psychological distress is through self-injury, then it’s time to seek help. And that’s when you should give us a call.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step to help treat self-injury behaviors, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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