What is Self-Harm and How Can We Help Young Women?

Self-harm can be a difficult and uncomfortable topic to talk about, but it is an important one. As parents of teenage daughters, it is essential to understand what self-harm is and how we can help young women who might be engaging in this behavior.

What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm, also known as self-injury or self-mutilation, is defined as the intentional infliction of physical harm on one’s own body without suicidal intent. It can include cutting, burning, biting oneself, scratching, hair pulling (trichotillomania), and other forms of intentional injury.  Self-harm is not typically intended to result in death; rather it is a coping mechanism used to manage overwhelming emotions or feelings such as anxiety, depression or anger. While self-harm may provide temporary relief from these intense emotions, it often leads to further distress in the long term as individuals become trapped in a cycle of self-harming behaviors that are difficult to break free from.

There is mounting evidence that self-harm is on the increase in the population as a whole, and that teenage girls and young adult women are the most affected. The proportion of 16- to 24-year-old females who say they have self-harmed rose from 6.5% to 19.7% between 2000 and 2014, according to a previous study.

Young Lions Program Director, Bridgett Greene, who manages programs for the delinquency prevention nonprofit in Tampa’s inner city, is concerned about the epidemic of self-harm among low-income girls. “We see an increasing number of teen girls hurting themselves,” says Green, “It’s scary because it’s often the girls you would suspect the least. They hide it so well. We know this is a nationwide issue; it is heartbreaking to see these beautiful young girls in such distress. There are just not enough resources to get them the help they need.”

 Causes and Risk Factors
There are many potential causes of self-harming behavior amongst young women. These include:

  •   Feeling powerless or out of control due to life events such as bullying or abuse,
  •   Challenging family dynamics,
  •   Mental health issues such as anxiety or depression,
  •   Experiencing intense feelings such as anger or frustration,
  •   Lack of healthy coping mechanisms for stress,
  •   Feeling disconnected from others.

Additionally, there are risk factors that may increase the likelihood of someone engaging in self-harming behaviors including:

  •   Family history of mental illness,
  •   Substance use disorder,
  •   Physical illness/disability,
  •   Poverty and deprivation,
  •   Difficulty regulating emotions/expressing emotions appropriately.

A recent study linking poverty and self-harm was conducted by the nonprofit consortium Agenda, an alliance of groups working to help young women and girls affected by abuse, poverty, poor mental health, addiction, homelessness and criminal justice issues. “It’s devastating to see such high and increasing levels of self-harm among young women, especially those living in poverty and facing deprivation. This is especially concerning as we move into an economic downtown,” said Jemima Olchawski, Agenda’s CEO .

“The increase in self-harm among young women is deeply worrying. Yet the discussion around this issue and women and girls’ mental health is often very narrow, focusing on issues like social media rather than reflecting on wider causes. This research highlights the important relationship between self-harm and poverty.”

Helpful Strategies for Parents
If you believe your daughter may be engaging in self harm behaviors there are some helpful strategies you can use to support them.

First and foremost it’s important to remain calm and nonjudgmental if you suspect your daughter is harming herself – no matter how shocking this news might be at first.

Secondly, it’s important to listen carefully when they tell you why they feel the need to hurt themselves – don’t interrupt them – instead try offering empathy and understanding without being judgmental or critical.

If appropriate offer up suggestions such as seeking professional help (such as a therapist) that could help your daughter learn new skills for managing her emotions more effectively without resorting to self harm behaviors.

Finally stay connected with your daughter by expressing love and concern while also setting healthy boundaries around her behavior so she knows you care while still remaining firm with expectations regarding her safety.

Car Credit Cares

Self harm can be a scary topic for parents but understanding what it is and how best to handle it can make all the difference for young women struggling with these issues. By offering support and connecting our daughters with resources available we can make sure they have the tools they need to cope with overwhelming emotions without resorting to damaging behaviors like self harm. With patience, love and dedication we can help our daughters find healthier ways of managing their emotions while still providing them with the emotional closeness they need during this turbulent period in their lives.

Car Credit owner, Steve Cuculich, supports the work of The Young Lions. “Our young people face very different challenges than their parents’ generation. We need boots on the ground in neighborhoods of need to make sure low-income kids have someone to turn to in tough times,” says Cuculich. “These kids are our county’s future. We have to be there for them.”

Car Credit is committed to helping the Tampa Bay community. Read more here www.carcredit.com/blog.

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