ThedaCare Health Matters

Self-harm behaviors challenge to deal with

One of the most difficult problems that I see is when patients intentionally harm themselves. This is a problem that is more common than most people realize and is associated with mental illness. I am the first to admit that I struggle with treatment of psychiatric disorders, but the fact is most of the care of patients with mental illness is done by primary care providers or in the emergency room.

Of course, the ultimate self-harm event is suicide. This remains a very serious problem with more than 40,000 suicide deaths per year. It is the third leading cause of death in those between 15-24-years-old.  

Another self-harm problem that seems to be on the rise is referred to as non-suicidal self injury or NSSI. This presents a treatment challenge for healthcare providers. These are acts done by patients with mental illness, who intentionally do things to hurt themselves. Sometimes, the event is not enough to require medical attention, but many times patients do seek medical care for treatment.

One of the more common NSSI behaviors is known as cutting. People will take a razor blade or sharp knife and make superficial cuts in the skin usually in parallel lines. Patients claim the pain relieves stress for them. Sometimes, they cut too deep and cause bleeding or a cut that requires repair.

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