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Taking a Closer Look at Self-Harm

Self-Harm concept - depressed person sitting with hands over face

What is Self Harm?

Creative Care gets a lot of questions from concerned family members and loved ones regarding clients who engage in self-harm. Self-harm refers to the practice of injuring oneself; cutting and burning are two common methods. While this behavior is not a suicide attempt, those who engage in the practice are at an increased risk of feeling suicidal. In an effort to promote mental health awareness, we’d like to examine the practice a little more closely here.

Maladaptive Coping

Self-harm is a maladaptive coping behavior, not a mental illness. However, it often occurs with mental health disorders. A review by Kerr, Muehlenkamp, and Turner reveals that up to 20% of psychiatric populations, in aggregate, report engaging in self-injury. It is also more prevalent in specific mental health disorders. Approximately 70-75% of people suffering from borderline personality disorder engage in self-injurious behavior. In fact, self-injury is one of the nine criteria for diagnosing BPD. Self-injury is also fairly common in eating disorders, with prevalence studies showing rates of 26-55% for bulimia and 13-42% in patients with anorexia. Additionally, a study by Nock and Kessler revealed that self-harm is somewhat common in those struggling with depression. 42% of participants who engaged in self-harm also met the criteria for major depressive disorder. In short, this is behavior we see often in the histories of our clients and something we monitor closely.

A Cognitive Approach

The presence of self-harm as a symptom adds another facet when treating patients with mental health disorders. A study by Hooley and St. Germain suggests that positive self-worth could play a factor in the treatment of these individuals. In a review of participants’ responses, the team found that those who harmed themselves often described themselves as “bad,” “defective,” or “deserving of punishment.” These participants also had a high tolerance for pain and the team believed these to be related. In an experiment focusing on pain endurance, participants who received a five-minute cognitive intervention focusing on positive self-worth showed a 60-second decrease in pain tolerance compared to the control group. Hooley explains that “[t]he more valuable that people feel, the less willing they are to endure a bad situation” and believes that cognitive approaches that focus on self-worth may provide a new treatment direction for those who engage in self-harm.

Innovative, Creative Care

Creative Care has been providing compassionate, innovative treatment since 1989. We nurture a sense of community in our program and believe in the inherent self-worth of each client. Every client receives a comprehensive psychological assessment upon admission, ensuring a complete diagnostic snapshot. We treat the whole person, as a person. For example, a personalized treatment plan may include:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Psychiatric visits
  • Medications
  • Family or couples therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Nutrition group
  • Equine group
  • Yoga and other relaxation therapy

With over 30 years of experience treating mental health disorders, Creative Care has become the premier facility for individuals who need cutting-edge care with the extra support, understanding, and accountability to heal. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, please consider giving Creative Care a call and begin your journey to a new life today.