Why Self Harm is Not a Solution

Self Harm

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, MD, FRCPC

In my daily work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I see a lot of teens who are struggling. More and more teens are finding life’s stressors very difficult to cope with. It’s tough enough being a teen these days. Many teenagers are become stressed trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. To top this off with the academic pressures of school and conflict with friends or parents, it can seem like it’s too much to bear.

With time, some teens find that self-harm behaviour helps them cope. Self-harm most often includes cutting. When dealing with emotional pain, cutting leads to severe physical pain that somewhat dulls the emotional pain. Even though it seems like cutting is working, it really makes everything worse.

Even though it may seem like a “quick fix,” self-harm can have serious cosmetic and medical consequences. Rather than help us cope with stress, self-harm actually makes it harder to cope over time. If you think of life as a marathon, the only way to get through it is by exercising. Cutting is like sitting in a wheelchair. Instead of building the strength you need to power through, self-harm becomes a crutch that keeps you from learning healthy coping skills that are needed in the future.

If you are ever struggling and need help…all you have to do is ask. There are alternatives!

For example, there is a specific kind of therapy called Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) that helps teach alternatives to self-harm. DBT is a treatment program available at both the Children’s Hospital and St. Joseph’s Healthcare. An example of what you can learn through DBT is the TIP acronym. TIP stands for temperature, intense exercise and progressive relaxation. Temperature includes using hot (warm baths, hot showers) or cold (ice) to help reset your brain when you become stressed. Intense exercise suggests going for a walk, run or working up a sweat. Lastly, progressive relaxation is a specific trick where you learn to scrunch each part of your body and then releasing, starting with your toes all the way up to your head. If these skills don’t work, DBT offers many others.

There are lots of places in town that help teens learn healthy coping skills. You can call the Crisis and Intake Team (C-IT) at 519-433-0334. They are able to you help you 24 hours a day. You can talk to a counselor who can advise which services are available in town and how to access them.

Another great support is a website called mindyourmind.ca, where there are multiple resources available. One includes an amazing mobile app called besafe that helps users build a safety plan for when you’re close to feeling overwhelmed.

If suicide is another thought that you are struggling with, the most important thing you can do is tell someone you trust. Even when things are really bad and you feel like you are drowning in stress, there is hope. Life does get better!

Dr. Javeed Sukhera is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at London Health Sciences Centre Children’s Hospital who works with children, teens and young adults struggling with mental illness.