The Epidemic of Self-Harm
By: Brad Huddleston
After speaking at a school in South Africa, I offered to stick around and chat with students. There were so many students that the principal suggested I use his private office. For four and a half hours, individuals and groups of students came to see me. I’ll never forget one in particular. A very sweet, and by all accounts, normal-looking young female student came in, pulled up her pants leg, and exposed numerous cuts on her ankle. She was cutting in that location to hide her wounds. In another school, I encountered a young girl who was picking at scabs on her hand, thus never allowing them to heal. Those are just two stories of many, and I can confirm anecdotally what the research shows; self-harm is prolific the world over.
The most significant expression of self-harm appears to be cutting, where the person uses a blade of some kind to actually make cuts in the skin, most commonly on the forearms, thighs, or ankles. The Mayo Clinic lists the following as other forms of self-injury: burning (with lit matches, cigarettes or hot sharp objects like knives), carving words or symbols in the skin, hitting or punching, piercing the skin with sharp objects.
Social Psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt, of the NYU Stern School of Business, was featured in the documentary, The Social Dilemma, and said the following: “There has been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety for American teenagers which began right around 2011. The number of teenage girls out of 100,000 in this country who were admitted to a hospital every year because they cut themselves or otherwise harmed themselves, was pretty stable until around 2010, and then it begins going way up. It’s now up 62 percent for older teen girls. It’s up 189 percent for the preteen girls. That’s nearly triple. Even more horrifying, we see the same pattern with suicide. In older teen girls, 15 to 19 years old, the rate is up 70 percent, compared to the first decade of this century. The preteen girls’ rate, who have had very low rates to begin with, are up 151 percent. And that pattern points to social media.” Social media’s influence on teenagers who are already struggling with mental health issues can be highly detrimental.
Often, people who cut themselves have “rows” of old and new wounds. To simplify our understanding of how this addictive process works, one woman, named Sarah S., offered her explanation on the website The Hope Line. After being addicted to cutting for six years she said, “Your body has its own pain management using hormones called endorphins. Endorphins manage physical pain, as well as emotional pain. When someone cuts, endorphins are released and help [cover up] the emotional and physical pain. It will make you feel better for a few minutes, and then you will crash again. Eventually, your body will build a tolerance to it. You will have to cut deeper and/or more frequently and more cuts at one time to get the same effect as before.”
So, what do we do about it?
If you self-harm, please understand it is no accident that you are reading this. God loves you, and our ministry cares for you. After all, that’s why I’m writing this article. The first thing you must do is talk. Find a Christian you trust and release your immediate pressure by simply speaking out about the problems you’re presently experiencing. Then, find a pastor or Christian counselor who can work with you to help you solve the issues you’re facing. If you need help finding someone to talk to, visit bradhuddleston.com and use the contact button at the top of the page.
For more information, check out my newly released book, Digital Rehab: Learning to Live Again in the Real World, at bradhuddleston.com.