Recovery Month: finding life after self-injury

Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 4:28 PM EDT
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NOTE: Some of the language in this story may be triggering for those with a history of self-harm. Please consider that when reading.

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Non-suicidal self-injury, more commonly known as self-harm, is when a person intentionally hurts themselves without the goal of committing suicide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Self-harm is commonly associated with teenage girls or women, but it does impact all ages. However, the average age of first incident is 13.

Cutting is often associated with self-harm, but it can also involve hitting oneself, burning, restrictive eating, over-exercising, among other actions.

Andrea Kendall, Licensed Clinical Social Worker with Augusta Health, said recovery is about getting your mind off of self-injury and on other things.

“Recovery from that involves being able to hopefully stop but at minimum reduce those behaviors, so it’s not disrupting your life, so you’re able to work, able to parent, do the things you want to do without feeling kind of consumed by that, without possibly putting yourself in danger,” said Kendall.

She described recovery in three pieces.

1. Having the skills and tools to be able to cope when you have intense feelings or triggers.

2. Finding a support network of loved ones and professionals.

3. Trying to get ahold of those negative thoughts and self-punishing narrative; replacing those thoughts with self-compassion.

She suggested finding physical things that make you feel comfortable, like a weighted blanket and soothing music. Practicing meditation and affirmations are good ways to comfort yourself emotionally.

For people who don’t self-harm, it may be hard to understand why one would do it.

“A lot of self-harm is triggered by feelings of isolation, of hopelessness, of anger that doesn’t have anywhere to go. A lot of that involves just having some sort of support network, either in-person, online by phone and people you can reach out to when those negative feelings are so overwhelming,” said Kendall.

It can be hard to open up because of associated stigma, but Kendall said - in recovery - it’s about finding people who understand.

“Self-harm is often seen as something in the realm of teens, especially young teen women. It cuts across all ages, all socioeconomic levels, and there’s a lot of shame around it. We encourage people to be as open. It’s much more common than anyone realizes, and there are lots of resources out there,” she said.

There are many resources available. Text HOME to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line, and SAMHSA’s National Helpline can also connect you with resources. Call them at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).