Learn About Self Harm In Adolescents

self harm treatment in Atlanta

In This Article

What Is Self-Harm and What Causes It?

Self-harm is a behavior that anyone, including children or teens, may sometimes engage in. They might cut their skin or scratch it until it bleeds. Some cutting behaviors on the arms can look like suicide attempts, but they are not. Teens who engage in self-harming behavior do not always have the intention to die by suicide but they do have a higher risk of completing suicide. This type of self-injurious behaviors are called Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI).

There are a few different explanations for self-injury. Some are so emotionally guarded that they feel nothing. The cutting is a way to feel something, even if it’s pain. For others, self-harm is a distraction from more severe emotional pain. No matter the reason, self-harming behavior is certainly a cry for help. Figuring out the reason for self-harm is often difficult and requires skilled professional help. Effective treatment includes identifying the reasons why clients engage in self-harming behavior and what other factors are involved in maintaining the client’s on-going self-harming behavior.

What Are the Dangers of Self-Injury?

Physically cutting or scratching the skin can leave kids vulnerable to serious infections. The skin is the barrier of protection the body has to keep harmful viruses and bacteria out. People who engage in self-injury are constantly nursing an open wound. That wound can easily get infected, and the infection can spread to other areas of the body.

Self-harming behavior can and often will escalate without treatment. People who engage in self-harming behavior have a higher risk of suicide. The cutting, scratching or burning may be done in response to emotional pain, despite of the physical pain it causes. It is possible for someone to go too far with self-injurious behavior and end up doing more damage than intended. Cutting, for example, can result in extreme medical emergency requiring stitches or even death.

The psychological dangers of self-injury are similar to addiction. The injurious behavior provides a reward for the child – a release of tension or a counterbalance to emotional pain. Any emotional pain can trigger self-harm, and the behaviors will be practiced more often to achieve the relief your child is searching for.

What Are the Signs Your Child May Be Engaging in Self-Harm?

Many children try to hide self-injury from their parents. They know it’s wrong, but they can’t stop. If you detect these signs, your child may need help:

  • Open wounds that don’t heal
  • Cuts in the same place
  • Wearing long sleeves in warm weather
  • Visible scars
  • Talking about self injury
  • Using a lot of band aids
  • Refusing to change clothes in the locker room
  • Collecting sharp objects

Treatment for Self-harm and Suicidal Ideation: What to Expect

Treatment for suicidal ideation and self-harm in teens usually depends on their specific situation, including how likely they are to engage in suicidal behaviors and the underlying emotions that may be causing them to engage in life-threatening behaviors. Here are some of the most common elements covered during treatment:

Assessment and Evaluation

The assessment process aims to identify the triggers, risk factors and underlying issues that may be contributing to suicidal ideation. This stage usually involves a deeper look into the details of how the child engages in or has the urges to engage in self-harming behaviors 

Safety and Stabilization

When adolescents start engaging in self-injury, they are at a higher risk of completing suicide, and therefore their safety becomes the priority. This step involves safety planning, a short-term intervention that limits the child’s access to harmful objects and substances in their home. Safety planning also provides supportive resources and contacts to use in a crisis.


Psychotherapy is a crucial part of suicidal ideation treatment, as it helps people understand how their thoughts, experiences and emotions can lead them to want to engage in self-injury. This way, they can work through issues and learn new ways to cope.

Common types of psychotherapy are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Both CBT and DBT teaches people how to identify the unhelpful thoughts that negatively affect their mood and replace them with more balanced alternatives over time. DBT, is designed to treat self-harming behaviors through a targeted behavior analysis and effective skills-building.


Some people with self-harming behaviors may also have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. A psychiatric provider, such as a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse practitioner, may prescribe some medications to treat the symptoms of said conditions to help regulate the person’s mood, depending on their circumstances. 

However, it is worth noting that some of these medications cause suicidal ideation as a side effect, so always work closely with your psychiatric provider to communicate any side effects and medication effectiveness to determine the best medication fit. Medication by itself is typically not as effective as medication in combination with psychotherapy.

Ongoing Support

A child is less likely to continue engaging in self-harming behaviors when they receive ongoing support. This usually involves having a good relationship and access to their psychiatric provider and therapists should they need it.

Having family, friends and the community support your child is also a great way to help them cope. Other things they can focus on to give their life purpose include:

  • Looking after a pet.
  • Having occasions to look forward to, such as a vacation, wedding or graduation.
  • Creating long-term plans.

Atlanta’s Trusted Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation Treatment Center for Teens

Contact Hillside for more information on self-harming behaviors or if you think your child may be engaging in self-injurious behavior. We offer both outpatient and residential programs for mental health at our self-injury treatment center in Georgia which focuses exclusively on children and teens. Our philosophy is to treat the child and bring in the parents to be part of the long-term solution. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been proven to be extremely effective in treating self-harming behavior and we have seen great results in our clients.

It is important to choose the right self-harm treatment program to treat your child’s self-injurious behavior. With our focus on children and teens and a fully trained staff in DBT, Hillside might be the right place for you. We offer treatment for suicidal ideation and self harm among Georgia youth. Contact us for more information today!