Did you know that March 1 is Self-Injury Awareness Day? For the last 18 years, Self-Injury Awareness Day (#SIAD) is recognized to raise awareness, understanding and empathy, as well as reduce judgement. This day is also meant to minimize fear and the number of people who feel alone or suffer in silence. Below, you’ll find useful information on how to approach self-harm with your consumers.

What is self-harm?
Self-injury, also known as self-harm, self-mutilation or self-abuse, occurs when someone intentionally harms himself in a way that is, at times, impulsive and not intended to be lethal.

What are some examples of self-injury?
The most common methods are skin cutting, head banging and burning. Other forms of self-injury include excessive scratching to the point of drawing blood, hair pulling, and punching oneself or objects.

Who self-injures?
Self-injury affects people from all walks of life, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or personal strength.

What can cause someone to engage in self-injurious behavior?
People who self-injure commonly report they feel empty inside; they feel over or under stimulated; they are unable to express their feelings; they are lonely; or they are not understood by others. Self-injury may be a way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings and is generally not a suicide attempt. However, relief is temporary, and a self-destructive cycle often develops without proper treatment. Self-injury can also be a way to have control over your body when you can’t control anything else in your life.

What are some warning signs?
Warning signs that someone may be injuring themselves include:
● Unexplained frequent injuries including cuts and burns
● Low self-esteem
● Difficulty handling feelings
● Relationship problems or avoidance of relationships
● Poor functioning at work, school or home

People who self-injure may attempt to conceal their marks, such as bruises, scabs or scars, with clothing, so you may notice them wearing inappropriate clothing such as long sleeves and pants in hot weather.

Is self-injury the same as someone wanting to die by suicide?
The relationship between suicide and self-injury is complicated. While people dealing with non-suicidal self-injury do not intend to die by suicide, they may cause more harm than intended, which could result in medical complications or death.

What should I do if I work with a consumer that engages in self-injurious behavior?
Self-injury has an immediate effect, creating instant relief, but it is only temporary – the underlying emotional issues still remain. 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.

If you work with a consumer who engages in self-injurious behavior, it is recommended you consult with your supervisor about your treatment approach to ensure you are offering the best support to your consumer and their family.

Important things to remember:
● Self-injurious behavior may increase during treatment, as the coping strategy is usually relied upon during times of stress.
● Asking a person who self-injures to just stop is in effect removing what may well be their only coping strategy. Instead, encourage the person to find healthier ways of dealing with their distress before expecting them to move away from self-injury.
● Accept that your consumer(s) may self-injure for an extended period of time, even during successful treatment. Self-injury can be a long-term matter.
● Self-injury is often a difficult subject to comprehend. It’s important to take care of your own emotional well-being and recognize when you need some extra support when working with someone who self-injures.

Self-Injury Awareness Day is so important, but it’s only one day. We need to support the individuals we serve throughout the year and work to reduce the stigma associated with self-injury. Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure and reaching out to people who do.

Kristen Maikranz
Director of Mental Health