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Residential Treatment for Self-Harming Behaviors

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

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If you’ve recently discovered your teenager engages in self-harming behaviors such as cutting, branding, excessive scratching, or biting, you’re probably in a state of shock. It’s not an easy thing to understand. But once the initial flood of emotions passes, it’s your job as a parent to learn as much as you can and get your child the help they need as soon as possible.

Self-Harm: Facts and Figures

It’s important to know that this type of self-harm is not usually done with the intent to die. Self-harm is not suicide. It’s what mental health professionals call non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). It’s also important to know your child is not alone. Most individuals who engage in NSSI go to great lengths to hide it, so precise statistics are not readily available. Here are the current facts as understood by the professional mental health community:

  • Almost two million cases of self-harm  are reported each year in the U.S.
  • One in seven males and one in five females engage in self-harm behaviors every year
  • Children often learn self-harming behavior from friends or websites that promote self-harm
  • Nearly 70% of youth admitted to the hospital for self-harm report prior self-harm behavior that they never reported

Warning Signs: What to Look For

If you suspect your teenager is engaging in self-harm, keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • Wearing long sleeves or pants summer
  • Cuts, scratches, bruises, carvings, or burns anywhere on their body
  • Spending time with friends or acquaintances who harm themselves
  • Missing patches of hair, including eyelashes or eyebrows
  • Sharp objects hidden in the bedroom, backpack, clothes, or car
  • Isolating in the bedroom with the door locked, especially after a stressful event
  • Wounds or scars noticed by a teacher, coach, or family doctor
  • A close friend or family member reports seeing your teen engage in self-harm
  • Finding sharp objects in your teen’s room with blood on them

How You Can Help

Although self-harm behaviors like cutting or burning aren’t usually done with the intent to die, accidental deaths as a result of self-harm can and do occur. Therefore, it’s critical to take action. Here’s a list of steps to take if you discover your teen is engaging in self harm:

  1. Talk to them. Be patient, open, and calm. Do not scold. They will probably be embarrassed and try to downplay the behavior.
  2. Get an evaluation. Make an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist who specializes in children and adolescents. A professional evaluation will help determine if your child has an underlying psychiatric disorder that’s contributing to the behavior. A qualified psychiatrist or therapist can also recommend the best course of treatment, depending on the outcome of the evaluation.
  3. Get treatment. The type of treatment recommended will be contingent on whether your teen has an underlying mental health disorder. For example, outpatient therapy, intensive outpatient therapy, or residential treatment programs may be potential avenues for healing.

Residential Treatment Programs at Evolve

As a parent, the chances are you aren’t equipped to handle severe mental health disorders like bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, or defiance disorders – all of which can contribute to self-harm. Your job is to love and support your child. Serious, dangerous behaviors like self-harm and their underlying causes need to be addressed by qualified professionals.

That’s where we come in.

At Evolve, we’re experts at getting to the root of the problem. We’ll talk with you and your teenager and design an individualized treatment program that meets your specific family needs. We employ innovative modes of therapy that enable your teen to manage their mental health disorder without hurting themselves.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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