Seeking Solutions to Self-injury: A Guide for Young People

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Although he or she may want to avoid discussing the issue, understanding the feelings and emotions that make him or her want to self-injure is an essential component of treatment. In addition to better understanding what causes someone to self-injure, treatment also focuses on learning more adaptive ways of coping, so that the individual can find healthier and safer ways to solve his or her problems.

Trying to force someone to change his or her behaviour before he or she is ready will only make the person increasingly resistant to treatment and cause frustration for you. The young person needs you to be part of his or her support system now and when he or she is in treatment. Self- injury can become addictive and a habit, so it is important to be patient during recovery.

Remember that the person needs to have healthier coping strategies in place before completely relinquishing his or her self-injurious behaviour. Being a positive influence while the young person is seeking professional help is important. Encourage him or her to avoid things that can be used to hurt him- or herself.

Remind the person to do things that make him or her happy. Help him or her connect with other people. Even just spending time with him or her and listening to what he or she has to say can make a difference. A variety of treatment options exist for youth who self-injure. Determining which course of action is appropriate for each individual should be done with the guidance of a trained health professional. Rather than treating the self-injury directly, medication helps with the underlying issues that are contributing to why someone chooses to self-injure.

For more information on how to properly use medications, check out MedEd. School supports: Sometimes certain adaptations can be made by the school to assist a student in coping with and managing his or her self-injury. Contagion and Self-Injury For someone who uses healthy coping strategies to deal with emotion, knowing that someone else self-injures is unlikely to make them start. If, however, someone has difficulty coping with intense emotions, he or she may be more likely to self-injure after finding out that someone he or she knows self-injures.

Be attentive to what the young person watches and hears, and talk to him or her about how he or she is feeling. Most often, young people who self-injure are looking for a way to deal with their emotions, and they will continue to self-injure until they learn more effective coping strategies. In this issue Mental Health Academy — Develop a foundation in mental health literacy for you and your students Community Highlight — Nova Scotia school-based mental health initiatives Welcome to another edition of the TeenMentalHealth.

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Feel free to join the conversation by sharing questions, feedback, photos, or […]. What are the symptoms of self-injury? Who is at risk for self-injury behaviours? How do you know if someone you love self-injures? How can you tell the difference between suicide and non-suicidal self-injury? What are the criteria for diagnosis of non-suicidal self-injury?

Understanding Self-harm, Self-injury and How to Support Young People

The following criteria are suggested as an area for further research in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders DSM-V : In the last year, the individual has, on 5 or more days, engaged in intentional self-inflicted damage to the surface of his or her body of a sort likely to induce bleeding, bruising, or pain e.

The individual engages in the self-injurious behavior with one or more of the following expectations: To obtain relief from a negative feeling or cognitive state. To resolve an interpersonal difficulty. To induce a positive feeling state. Note: The desired relief or response is experienced during or shortly after the self-injury, and the individual may display patterns of behavior suggesting a dependence on repeatedly engaging in it. The intentional self-injury is associated with at least one of the following: Interpersonal difficulties or negative feelings or thoughts, such as depression, anxiety, tension, anger, generalized distress, or self-criticism, occurring in the period immediately prior to the self-injurious act.

Prior to engaging in the act, a period of preoccupation with the intended behavior that is difficult to control. Thinking about self-injury that occurs frequently, even when it is not acted upon. The behavior is not socially sanctioned e. The behavior or its consequences cause clinically significant distress or interference in interpersonal, academic, or other important areas of functioning.

The behavior does not occur exclusively during psychotic episodes, delirium, substance intoxication, or substance withdrawal. In individuals with a neurodevelopmental disorder, the behavior is not part of a pattern of repetitive stereotypies. The behavior is not better explained by another mental disorder or medical condition e. What can you do if someone in your life self-injures? What treatment options exist for young people who self-injure? Asking about self-harm does not increase the likelihood of the behaviour, and it is important that all healthcare professionals become confident in asking about it.

There is a lack of unequivocal evidence for effective clinical interventions for adolescent self-harm,[2] but approaches include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, problem-solving therapy, psychodynamic treatment and family therapy. Recent research has demonstrated promise for a universal school awareness-raising intervention involving provision of an information booklet and posters and follow-up interactive lessons including roleplay.

Voluntary sector organisations provide excellent services and resources to young people and educational and self-help information is readily accessible online see Resources. This first contact with healthcare services could be the last if it is perceived to be unhelpful. Our responses to young people who self-harm can be pivotal in facilitating ongoing engagement with health or support services. Self-harm can nevertheless be a difficult issue for nurses to digest and we can experience a vast range of feelings when faced with an individual who has engaged in self-harm.


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A calm demeanour is essential in order to instil security and confidence and optimise engagement. Fresh wounds should be attended to gently and respectfully.


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  6. The most important thing we can do is validate their distress and provide a safe space to talk. For most young people, family involvement will be protective and an important part of recovery. A safety plan should identify triggers, warning signs, distraction techniques and who to contact for support, including contingencies. It is important that distraction techniques are conducive to the underlying emotional state.

    Common conditions

    They will need something that involves some form of exertion. The young person can be encouraged to distract themselves when they are feeling vulnerable by going through their hope box. Such a dialogue should always promote help-seeking and aim to instil hope that behaviours can change and support is available.

    Information for...

    Specialist advice should be sought for such individuals. Self-harm is a growing problem. Primary care and school nurses have a vital role in identifying and responding to self-harm and facilitating ongoing support. Finally, print the email you have received, along with the article and certificate and include both in your CPD portfolio. Skip to main content. This site is intended for health professionals only. Clinical Clinical news, views and education for practice nurses. Mythbuster: 'Chocolate can cause acne, and altering the diet can improve it'. Search form Search. Sponsored Don't underestimate asthma's psychological impact - Chiesi Read.

    Helping young people who self-harm. Friday 3rd March, Key learning points: For many young people, the function of self-harm is to escape an unbearable emotional state Relief and negative feelings experienced following self-harm can result in a cycle of self-harming behaviour Safety planning is an essential intervention to help young people and their families manage and reduce self-harm Self-harm is defined as 'any act of self-poisoning or self-injury carried out by an individual irrespective of motivation'.

    Hidden side of a visible problem | APS

    Why young people self-harm Self-harm is a coping strategy; an attempt to manage unbearable emotional pain by channelling it into physical pain, which can feel more tolerable and provide emotional relief. Responding when a young person has self-harmed A calm demeanour is essential in order to instil security and confidence and optimise engagement. Self harm in over 8s: short-term management; Available at: nice.

    Self-harm and suicide in adolescents.



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