Nonsuicidal self-injury disorder, better known as self-harm, is characterized by the purposeful actions of causing physical harm to oneself without the intention of committing suicide. Self-harm behaviors are more common in teenagers and adolescents and occur due to severe underlying emotional pain and a lack of healthy coping skills. Self-harm behaviors are unhealthy coping strategies to release emotions related to anger, sadness, neglect, pain, and frustration. The individual gains a superficial sense of emotional and mental relief after the harmful act is completed followed by feelings of shame or guilt resulting in even more negative emotions until this cycle continues. Current studies suggest that approximately 4% or more of the population self-injures, and as high as 14% of adolescents may engage in this behavior. Studies have shown that there are four main reasons why individuals engage in self-harm behavior: 1) to reduce negative emotions, 2) to feel “something” besides numbness or emptiness, 3) to avoid certain social situations, and 4) to receive social support. Self-harm behavior is extremely dangerous because not only can these behaviors wreak havoc on the physical body but they can also harm the mind as well.
The relationship between cutting and eating disorders
Sadly, these same underlying emotions are experienced in individuals who engage in eating disorder behaviors associated with binging and purging. Self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretic abuse, and excessive exercise may or may not follow episodes of binging in order to rid the body of calories and prevent weight gain. These behaviors are rarely about food but rather are fueled by an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with underlying emotions associated with lack of control such as anger, low self-esteem, trauma, anxiety, and depression. Eating disorders like self-harm behaviors result in a sense of relief once the purging or binging is completed however feelings of guilt and sadly quickly follow, resulting in a vicious cycle of empty emotions.
Consequences associated with self-harm and eating disorders
Like self-harm behaviors, eating disorders can physically destroy the body resulting in medical complications such as gastric reflux, nutritional deficiencies, infertility, stunted growth, poor dentition, poor bone health, and anemia. Self-harm behaviors such as cutting can result in disfigurement. Social isolation, suicide, anxiety, broken relationships, depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and anxiety are all well-known consequences of both eating disorders and self-harm behavior and many professionals agree that self-harm behavior can result in eating disorders and vise versa.
Reducing the stigma by celebrating World Eating Disorders Action Day
World Eating Disorders Action Day (#WeDoAct) is a grassroots movement designed for and by people affected by an eating disorder, their families, and the medical and health professionals who support them. Uniting activists across the globe, the aim is to expand global awareness of eating disorders as genetically linked, treatable illnesses that can affect anyone. The Third Annual #WorldEatingDisordersDay will take place on June 2, 2018, across the globe. Eliminating the stigma against eating disorders starts with sharing your personal story, seeking help, supporting others and being honest with each other. Mental health professionals can help clients break down these walls also by empowering their clients by providing strong and effective coping skills, introducing them to a healthy support community and providing them with honest and compassionate therapy. It all starts with each individual as individuals will then form a community and as a community grows, a revolution can take place.