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Young People and Mental Health: Self-Injury Awareness Day

2 minute read

[Trigger Warning: This article mentions mental health, suicide and self-harm]

Did you know that an estimated 17% of people will self-harm during their lifetime? Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD), observed annually on the 1st of March, draws attention to the reality of self-harm in the hope of helping those who suffer from it.

Self-harm is any behaviour that involves deliberately causing oneself pain or injury and can be related to complex PTSD or depression. Some forms of self-harm include cutting, burning, biting or scratching the skin and hitting oneself or a wall. It can also include deliberately ingesting hazardous substances such as poison or overdosing on alcohol or drugs.

From 2016-17, there were over 33,000 cases of hospitalised injuries due to intentional self-injury in Australia. While not all self-harm is linked to suicidal thoughts or the intent to suicide – the risk of accidental death for those that self-harm is a serious issue.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2019, there were 3318 suicides, with men accounting for 75% of these suicides. The death of a loved one, however that may come, leaves everlasting trauma for those left behind (read about Hidden Road Suicides).

Self-harm is largely built on negative feelings and people who self-harm are often trying to alleviate negative feelings and emotions through physical pain. However, this is usually followed by feelings of guilt and shame, which can trap someone in a cycle. In this sense, self-harm can be a coping mechanism for some as the physical pain provides temporary relief from emotional pain.

While the experience of self-harm is unique to every person, some reasons people say they self-harm include:

  • To cope with painful emotions such as guilt
  • To manage difficult issues such as stress or mental health issues
  • As a form of punishment towards oneself
  • To release heightened stimulation and tension from the fight-flight response
  • To feel physical pain
  • To feel more in control

Self-harm is becoming more prevalent in young people. A study showed that teenagers are by far the highest statistic for self-harm injury. Statistics from America show that about 15% of teenagers, and 17-35% of students have engaged in self-harm.

The immense work/study load, amount of stress and peer pressure coupled with hormonal changes that young people experience is intense and can at times lead to feelings of doubt, depression, anxiety and more.

Statistics show that the rate of female self-harm, especially for young females, is rising. In Australia, from 2019-20, the rate of self-harm for young people aged 15-19 years was 354 hospitalisations per 100,000 population. Females in this age group had a rate of 552 per 100,000 population.

One form of treatment for people who self-harm is a form of cognitive behaviour therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT). DBT is designed to help people who experience strong emotions by changing harmful thinking and behaviour while also helping them accept who they are.

A major part of DBT is understanding and developing four skill sets, which are:

  • Mindfulness
  • Distress tolerance
  • Emotional regulation
  • Interpersonal effectiveness

While we may not be able to personally help someone who self-harms, one thing we all can do is reduce the stigma of self-injury and mental illness. Stigma and negative associations with self-harm and those who self-harm can create a barrier for people wanting to reach out. Understanding that someone who self-harms is suffering is a step forward in breaking down these barriers.

If you or someone you know would like to reach, there are many places that can help.

To find out more about our programs click HERE.

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