Signs Your Teen May be Self-Harming

As a parent, it can be terrifying to imagine the possibility of your teen participating in self-harming behaviors. Self-harm is a complicated and difficult world to understand from the outside, which can make knowing how to help your child a frustrating process. Many destructive, self-harming behaviors can be easily concealed, and many teens who self-harm do so for years without the knowledge of anyone else.

The first step toward helping your teen learn to cope in safer, healthier ways is to recognize both the physical and emotional signs of self-harm. The more aware of negative behavior patterns you are, the more prepared you will be to stop them from occurring. Read below to learn more about 5 common signs of self-harming behaviors:

Existence of a Related Condition

In most cases of self-harm, individuals also suffer from one or more mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse. It is important to note that self-harm is not automatically a side-effect of these conditions, as many people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses do not participate in self-mutilating behaviors. If your child struggles with depression or anxiety, however, he or she is more at risk for developing self-harming behaviors—so keeping a close eye on sudden mood swings or overall behavioral changes is important.

Physical Evidence

The most obvious and straightforward way to identify whether or not your teen is self-harming is to watch for physical evidence. Almost all forms of self-harm leave physical marks or traces and, if behaviors occur often enough on the same body part, scars will develop. Cutting, burning, carving, biting, and piercing are all forms of self-harm that leave distinct marks upon the skin. If you suspect your teen is self-harming, inspect your home for objects such as razors, matches, and knives that are commonly used in self-mutilating behaviors. When appropriate, be on the lookout for clumps of hair, bits of skin, or bloody bandages/rags left behind.

Attempts to Cover Up

If your teen is hoping to hide her self-harming behaviors from you and others, she will attempt to cover up any area of her body that contains evidence of injury. Arms and legs are particularly popular locations for self-harm, as they are both easy to reach and easy to conceal with clothing. Long sleeves, extra accessories, and excess facial or body makeup could all be potential signs of self-harm cover-up. If your teen refuses to show her arms or legs even on 100 degree days, the possibility of self-harm is worth investigating.

Mood Changes

Drastic changes to mood and personality are also possible signs of self-harm. Teens who are indulging in self-harming—particularly those who already struggle with other mental obstacles—will typically experience an altered disposition and a change in their relationships and everyday activities. Watch your teen for changes in academic and/or work performance, as well as her appetite, sleeping patterns, and overall friendships and relationships. While mood swings can be entirely unrelated to self-harming, drastic changes in personality coupled with other suspicious behavior can be telltale signs of a teen that is self-harming.

Misuse of Other Substances

Oftentimes, self-harming is accompanied by additional dangerous behaviors. In an attempt to cope with her problems, your teen may also turn to alcohol, drugs, obsessive exercise, prescription overdosing, disordered eating, excessive thrill seeking, and other, milder behaviors such as increased isolation and increased/decreased sleeping. It is very possible that your teen will choose to experiment with several new coping mechanisms in addition to self-harm, in which case, self-harm may be increased in order to achieve the “high” obtained from other methods or substances. If your teen is currently struggling with one of the above-mentioned behaviors, talk with her to discover if she has also turned to self-harming.

It takes a great deal of patience and love to endure periods of time wherein your child is struggling with self-harming behaviors. Whether you suspect such behaviors or find evidence of self-harm, do not shame or criticize your teen for her choices. Rather, consult a mental-health professional to discuss the best course of treatment and the best chances of recovery. Together, you and your teen can beat her urge to self-harm once and for all.