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Self-Harming Teens: End the Cycle of Shame

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Back in 2014, I read about a system failure for teens seeking help for self-inflicted injuries: When they go to emergency rooms, they’re often met with what they perceive as degrading treatment from the staff.

This perceived lack of kindness perpetuates what researchers call a “cycle of shame” for these self-harming young adults. They feel worthless, so they hurt themselves. They seek help, and they’re made to feel worthless. It goes on and on.

Here’s what one researcher said:

“Unfortunately, there seems to be a persistent belief among staff who work in [emergency treatment centers] that being too nice will encourage ‘difficult’ patients to keep returning and cause the system (and those who work in it) to collapse under the strain. Our research suggests the opposite, namely that compassionate care is good for everyone concerned.”

The researchers who conducted this inquiry into self-harmers seeking help are calling for new models for taking care of these young people.

It’s important for all of us to understand how to respond to a vulnerable friend or family member seeking help. Here are some tips from, a crisis support resource:

  1. When you talk to the person, try to be calm, open and honest. Try not to be judgmental, shocked or take their behavior personally. Try and see the situation from their point of view and understand why they engage in self-harm.
  2. Let the person know that you support them and listen to them express their feelings.
  3. Help the person make a plan about what to do when they feel like self-harming. This will help the person feel supported, safe and more in control of their situation.
  4. Encourage the person to get support from health professionals like their GP or mental health professional and offer to go with them to their appointments if they are scared or uncomfortable.
  5. Don’t forget to look after yourself. Helping someone who self-harms can be draining and upsetting, so get support and look after your physical and emotional needs too.

Remember: Be kind!

For more information on self harm, click here.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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