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Recognizing Symptoms of Self-Harm and Suicide

Both self-harm and suicide involves emotional pain and the efforts a person makes, to get rid of that pain.

It is the intention behind the acts that matters most, however. Does the person want to end his or her life? Is it to release emotions? Is it to stop anxiety or escape debilitating mental health issues?

Understanding both self-harm and suicide can help you recognize if someone you love is thinking of committing suicide or if they are harming themselves for other reasons. Know the symptoms of suicide and understand why someone would want to die.

It is important to take the time to learn about self-harming behavior, how it is different than suicide and the reasons behind the disorder.

You can also gain knowledge on what to do if you encounter someone who is thinking of suicide or injuring themselves in some way.

Symptoms of Suicide

Sometimes people have suicidal thoughts and they hide it so well that it is hard to recognize until it is too late. Most of the time, however, there are at least a few symptoms, that if recognized and treated early enough, could save a life.

If you notice someone you love exhibiting morbid behaviors, these are red flags and you need to seek help immediately.

Some of these behaviors include them saying goodbye to friends and family; making comments suggesting they want to be dead; giving away their prized possessions; or seeking guns or pills or weapons when they do not normally use those items.

According to the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, just a few years ago, over 5000 people under the age of 25 committed suicide. This is an astonishingly high statistic.

Multiply that number by 25 and you will have the total number of attempted suicides each year. That’s 125,000 attempted suicides by young people.

There are just as many reasons why a person commits suicide.

Why People Commit Suicide

People commit suicide for many varied reasons. Each person reaches despair due to their own individualized problems, sometimes making it hard for them to see any hope of a better life.

Being bullied or abused in some way has been associated with those who commit suicide.

Many times, a person thinking of suicide will have another mental health disorder in which they are trying to cope without success.

Some of these include post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and bipolar disorder. Being unable to handle the emotions surrounding these disorders on their own, people begin to feel helpless and consider taking their own lives.

Genetics can also play a role in suicide, as well as chronic pain and addiction. When pain can’t be fixed by a doctor or when an addiction has control over a person’s life, they sometimes feel suicide is the only way out.

Some people relieve their emotional pain and turmoil through self-harm or self-injury, which is different than suicide.

Symptoms of Self-Harm

People use a variety of methods to injure themselves.

These include cutting with a razor blade or knife or another sharp object. They may also burn themselves, bang their head or other body parts or even swallow harmful items to make themselves sick.

A person who self-harms will most likely try to hide their injuries. However, look for bruising, cuts, burns or any other kind of wounds that may be self-inflicted. Even biting themselves, pulling out their own hair or punching themselves are all signs of a person causing harm to themselves.

Why People Self-Harm

The person who harms themselves may not want to commit suicide.

Instead, they are trying to find a way to release negative feelings within themselves. They may be having arguments with friends or family. They may be having severe anxiety over a personal situation.

By injuring themselves, they can even bring about positive feelings. It may be difficult to understand that someone can get rid of pain by injuring themselves.

Because they do not know how to cope with and release their emotional pain, they create a physical pain, just to feel something.

Self-harm has also been considered a way for people to control something in their life when things feel out of control. Some people combine their self-harming with other disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

The good news is, there is a lot of help available for both self-harm and preventing suicide.

How to Help

Many therapies can teach those thinking of suicide and those harming themselves to relieve negative emotions in a positive and healthier way. Therapies such as individual counseling, group therapy, family therapy can teach people new coping skills.

Seeking an evaluation from a Psychiatrist can help determine whether medicines will help relieve negative symptoms.

If you think someone is thinking of suicide or if you think they are injuring themselves, ask them. Asking someone if they are suicidal cannot make them commit suicide.  Make sure you ask in a compassionate way and not in a way that will cause them to shut down emotionally. That’s easier said than done sometimes but you may be surprised by the honesty in their answer.

If they are having thoughts about suicide or hurting themselves, act immediately. Do not wait until the next day or week to offer them help. It may be too late.

The national suicide line is a great resource available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Make the call with the person who is contemplating suicide and sit with them while they talk to the counselor on the phone. Follow any instructions given by the trained suicide prevention counselor.

You can take similar steps with someone who is self-harming. Ask them compassionately and assist them in calling for help. A mental health counselor who specializes in self-harm is a great start.

If the situation requires emergency medical care, take the person who is self-harming to the nearest emergency room.

While suicide and self-harm are both very serious, but different concerns, they are preventable.

There are many counselors and mental health professionals who can offer help to those suffering. They can offer hope and teach them coping skills that will enable to handle negative feelings in an appropriate way.

Counselors may help people find independence and build confidence in a person. They may also help them set goals and take the right steps to reach those goals.

If you know someone who could benefit from counseling to deal with self-harming behaviors or suicidal thoughts, reach out. Show you care and help them get the treatment they deserve.

 


Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.