For more than 18 years, Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) has been a global awareness event observed each year on March 1st and focuses on increasing education and support for an often misrepresented and misunderstood problem.
An estimated 2 million Americans intentionally harm themselves each year, according to the Journal of American Board of Family Medicine. The actual number is quite possibly higher due to the fact that many cases are not reported to doctors because if the stigma associated with it.
SIAD aims to help friends and family recognize the signs by creating awareness and understanding of self-injury and to help those in emotional distress find help.
“It is important to note that self-injury is not a healthy or effective way to cope with emotional pain, and it can have serious physical and psychological consequences,” said Lolita Allen, Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) Counseling, Advocacy and Prevention (CAP) program manager. “If you or someone you know is engaging in self-injury, it is important to seek professional help.”
There are a variety of reasons for those who do self-harm. Among being a coping mechanism for fear, stress, and anxiety, one such reason is that it creates a feeling of control which can be a way to have control over your body when you can’t control anything else in your life.
“Self-injury can be a way for individuals to feel a sense of control over their bodies and emotions,” said Allen. “For some individuals, it may represent a way to exert control in situations where they feel helpless or powerless.”
Other reasons for self-injury may be to express emotional pain, or to feel something when emotionally numb or disconnected as well as a form of self-punishment.
“Some individuals may engage in self-injury as a way to punish themselves for perceived mistakes, failures, or shortcomings,” said Allen. “For others it can serve as a nonverbal way to express feelings that may be difficult to articulate.”
Self-injury can have an immediate effect, creating instant relief, but it is only temporary – the underlying emotional issues still remain.
“Self-injury can serve as a release valve, allowing individuals to temporarily relieve feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, or other negative emotions,” said Allen.
Self-injury comes in many forms and can include behaviors like burning or picking at wounds, cutting, scratching, hitting oneself, and ingesting chemicals. People who self-injure may try to hide their injuries. They may have a hard time handling emotion, or having relationships, and tend to have poor self-esteem, developing issues at home, work, and school.
“Be vigilant,” said Allen. “Keep an eye on the person and be alert for warning signs of self-harm, such as unexplained cuts or bruises, wearing long sleeves or pants in warm weather, or avoiding social situations. If you are concerned about their safety, don't hesitate to seek professional help or emergency medical assistance.”
In time, self-injury can become a person’s automatic response to the ordinary strains of everyday life, and both frequency and severity of self-injury may increase.
“It’s important to be supportive,” said Allen. “Let the person know that you care about them and are there to support them. Listen to them without judgment, and validate their feelings. Encourage them to seek professional help if needed.”
Reducing the stigma associated with seeking help for self-harm is crucial for individuals who struggle with this behavior to access the help they need. Some ways to reduce the stigma associated with getting help can be mitigated by talking openly about mental health, challenge negative attitudes and beliefs, providing peer support, using positive language and access to resources.
“Providing access to mental health resources, such as therapy or counseling, can help individuals who are struggling with self-harm to seek help without fear of judgement or stigma,” said Allen. “Promoting open and honest discussions about mental health can reduce the stigma surrounding it.”
For help please use the resources below.
• 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988; https://988lifeline.org/current-events/the-lifeline-and-988/
• Psychological Health Resource Center: Call 866-966-1020; https://www.health.mil/phrc
• Military OneSource (MOS): Call 800-342-9647; https://www.militaryonesource.mil/
• Contact your installation behavioral health counselor.
• Contact your installation Fleet and Family Support Center