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What Is a Self-Harm Disorder?

Article Details
  • Written By: Stephany Seipel
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Self-harm is an impulse control disorder. Patients might cut their own skin, bite or burn themselves, or pull out their own hair. It is most common in adolescent females, particularly those who have been sexually or emotionally abused, and often occurs along with other mental health disorders. Mental health care practitioners usually prescribe medication and recommend psychiatric treatment.

The majority of people who engage in self-mutilation cut themselves. Others might hit themselves with blunt objects like hammers, pick at their skin, pull out their hair, or burn their bodies with hot objects. They usually act out when they are alone and attempt to hide the effects in public.

People who harm their own bodies often wear long pants or long sleeves, even during hot weather. Sometimes they keep razors, lighters or other self-harming objects among their personal belongings. Many of these individuals have low self-esteem and difficulty forming or maintaining meaningful relationships with others. Most patients who deliberately harm themselves have difficulty expressing feelings of helplessness or anger.

Patients do not usually engage in self-mutilating behavior out of a desire to kill themselves. Some people are unable to control the impulses that lead them to engage in self-mutilation, and they often think about hurting themselves. Others feel less stressed or less anxious after causing self-harm.

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For some individuals, self-harm disorder is a cry for help. Many patients see it as a method of controlling their inner or emotional pain; other people engage in the behavior out of the need to feel alive. They see self-mutilation as a way to escape from emotional numbness. Patients might also harm their bodies to punish themselves for real or imagined behaviors, or out of feelings of worthlessness.

Although self-harm disorder occurs in both males and females of all ages and races, teenage girls are in the highest-risk category. Those who were sexually or emotionally abused as children are at an increased risk of self-mutilation. People with post-traumatic stress disorder or who are intellectually disabled may also be at risk.

Self-harm disorder often occurs in conjunction with other mental-health problems. Patients might suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, anti-social personality disorders, borderline personality disorders, or psychosis. Others struggle with eating disorders, such as anorexia, or battle substance abuse issues.

Mental health practitioners treat self-harm disorder through post-traumatic stress therapy, psychotherapy and family therapy. A doctor might also prescribe anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants. Self-harm disorder does not usually lead to suicide, but patients can sometimes hurt themselves badly enough to cause permanent disfigurement or death.

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