Self-Harm as a Means of Coping With Emotional Distress


The number (prevalence) of self-harmers is relatively high in the general population. Self-harm is involved in as much as 225 out of 100.000 emergencies in the U.S., according to the emergency departments (Puskar et al., 2006).

Puskar and colleagues (2006) provide the following statements: If we should account for all cutters, the number of cutters would be greater, but since cutting behavior is a hidden affair, only a small amount of cutters are in treatment.

People who are more exposed to environmental stressors are more likely to engage in self-harm behavior (e.g., cutting). Self-cutting behavior is a way of coping. It relieves symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.

The effects of cutting are rather temporary, but in fact, it seems effective in relieving negative psychological symptoms. For this reason, it is quite difficult to prevent people from doing self-harm. About 40% to 60% of the self-harm patients continue to do self-harm despite inpatient treatment.

The treatment of these patients involves group and individual psychological therapy, antidepressant medication, and stress reduction skills. The self-cutting behavior often begins in adolescence, but as the treatment is relatively ineffective, the behavior often continues into adulthood. It then becomes an integrated part of the individual’s life and a way for him or her to cope with difficulties.

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