Self-harm or self-injury is a dangerous pattern of behavior, also known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). This condition may be difficult for some people to understand, as they don’t see why anyone would want to harm themselves. With self-harm, the intention is not to die but rather to cope with some kind of emotional distress.

Self-harm is a behavior that is related to many different mental health concerns. Teens may engage in self-harm due to depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), amongst others. Self-injury may be terrifying for the people involved, and it cannot be dealt with appropriately by anyone other than a mental health facilities for teens.

While many know that self-injury can result from depression or anxiety, often, people don’t realize that it can also be associated with OCD. In this article, we will explore self-harm OCD. Continue reading to learn more about this condition and understand how you can help the teen in your life if they’re engaging in self-harm.

What Are the Common Types of Self-Harm?

First, it’s important to understand how self-harm may manifest. According to an article published by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), self-harm in adolescents ranges from 6.4% to 14.8% in boys and from 17.7% to 30.8% in girls.

Because self-harm is so prevalent, it’s not surprising to learn that there are many different ways that teens may invoke injury upon themselves. Anytime a teen is engaging in self-harm, it is cause for serious concern. While there are seemingly endless ways that teens may harm themselves, some are more common than others. Some of the ways teens express self-harm include:

  • Burning themselves
  • Cutting themselves with a razor blade or other sharp object
  • Giving themselves bruises (punching or hitting)
  • Pulling out their hair
  • Poisoning themselves (with alcohol, drugs, or poisonous substances)
  • Starving themselves (anorexia) or purging (bulimia)

Why Do Teens Self-Harm?

There are many reasons why teens may self-harm, all of which are related to deeper issues. Teens experiencing mental health crises may engage in self-harm and may keep it a secret from those around them. Thus, if your teen is experiencing mental health issues, it’s important to look out for signs of self-harm.

If your teen is wearing long sleeves and pants in the warm weather, they may be attempting to hide some evidence of self-harm. Additionally, if your teen appears very thin but is wearing oversized clothing, they may have engaged in self-harm in the form of anorexia or bulimia.

While there are numerous reasons why your teen may be engaging in self-harm, some of them are more prominent than others. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • To punish themselves
  • Feeling very anxious
  • Feeling depressed
  • Feeling lonely or out-of-place
  • As a call for help
  • To avoid feelings of numbness
  • Due to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that results in recurring and unwanted thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and sensations. OCD can make those experiencing it feel unable to avoid engaging in repetitive behaviors and may result in obsessive thoughts.

Teens experiencing OCD may show it in many different ways. Some people who live with OCD find themselves frequently turning on and off light switches or washing their hands relentlessly. These repetitive behaviors can make it challenging to complete daily tasks and live a normal life.

OCD can also result in compulsive self-harm, which can make the condition even more alarming than usual. Even though people experiencing non-suicidal self-harm do not have the ultimate goal of killing themselves, the damage they inflict on their bodies can be hazardous.

How is OCD Related to Self-Harm?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be related to self-harm in some teens. Teens who are experiencing thoughts of self-harm and also have OCD may face extremely challenging circumstances.

OCD results in a high frequency of thoughts, so if a teen ponders self-harm, they may experience an influx of thoughts related to self-harm that are very difficult to deviate from. This can result in a vicious cycle, as teens who experience OCD tend to focus on their intrusive thoughts. This can mean that they engage in self-harming behavior more frequently, resulting in the cycle.

Self-harm can be a result of OCD, or it may be a co-occurring condition. Many people who engage in self-harm as a result of ODC do it in order to attempt to “control” their intrusive thoughts. Additionally, teens experiencing OCD are typically very anxious and find themselves triggered by their obsessive thoughts and feelings. This can lead them to want to self-harm to deal with the anxiety associated with their condition. Experiencing pain can result in a release of endorphins, making a teen feel better emotionally following an episode of self-harm. Additionally, they may feel more in control of the obsessive thoughts that are plaguing them if they’re able to “do something about it”.

Because teens dealing with OCD are so frequently plagued with obsessive thoughts, they may also find self-harm a distraction. When they engage in self-harm, the part of their brain being inundated with obsessive thoughts will be distracted by the pain, which can temporarily relieve them of some of their obsession. However, in the long run, not only is self-harm extremely dangerous, but it can also serve to make obsessive feelings worse.

How Can I Help My Teen?

If the teen in your life is experiencing self-harm OCD, there are treatment options available. This is a very complex behavior and thinking pattern, so treatment will likely be challenging and made up of different components. An essential first step is getting your teen in to speak with a mental health professional. They will assess your teen and work to understand why they’re engaging in self-harm. Your teen may be experience depression or anxiety in addition to their OCD, so this can complicate things. Medical professionals may suggest medication and therapy to help get their condition under control. There are also many residential treatment centers for teens that you can reach out to.

The most important thing to keep in mind if you discover that your teen has engaging in self-harm is to be understanding and listen to them. Allow them the opportunity to tell you how they’re feeling and offering encouraging support. Then, make sure you make an appointment with a mental health professional to ensure that they’re getting the help they need.