Self-harm is usually a sign that someone is having difficulty coping with their emotions in a healthy manner. It may take the form of
- Cutting, scratching, biting or burning the skin
- Punching oneself or banging one’s head against something solid
- Pulling out hair (including eyebrows and eyelashes)
- Deliberately consuming substances that will cause illness or injury
- Self-starvation and/or excessive exercise
- For Catholics, physical penances (including wearing of painful devices or garments, sleep deprivation, severe fasting, use of whips or chains, and praying for long periods with arms outstretched) without the permission and supervision of an experienced spiritual director.
People who perform self-injurious actions may do this because they desire control over some aspect of their life, or want to regain a sense of feeling. While these actions might provide a sense of temporary relief from emotional pain, it does not last long. If you or a loved one are struggling with self-harm, the best thing that you can do is to seek treatment. During treatment, you will work on processing the strong emotion attached to the self-harming behavior. You will also learn positive, healthy coping skills.
Suicidality is a heavy topic that is often stigmatized and overlooked in society. While many people find it more comfortable to turn a blind eye to the subject, the statistics are there and they are overwhelming: In 2019 alone, 47,511 Americans died by suicide, with 1.38 million suicide attempts. This indicates that we need to help destigmatize mental illness and reach out to those who may be struggling.
Important topics to keep in mind
- Catholics may feel guilt or shame over experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, considering them to be sinful. Mental health issues are not voluntary or sinful, and prayer (while helpful) is not the only way to address them.
- Frequent, invasive thoughts of suicide or self-harm can also be a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
- Passive suicidality is significant, and a matter for concern. This takes the form of wishing for death without actively planning to bring it about; for example, praying to be diagnosed with a terminal illness or fatally wounded in an accident that one did not cause. Falling asleep with the wish not to wake up again is a common form of passive suicidality.
- A sense of foreshortened future (having an unfounded belief that you will die young, or being unable to imagine future events in your adult life) is a symptom of trauma, not a divine prophecy.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, again, please seek treatment. Below are links to various resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you notice that your suicidal thoughts are increasing or if you need immediate help, please call 911.
Please visit our Therapy page to will find various websites to find the right therapist for you. Please remember that you are not alone.
The suggestions given on this page do not constitute professional mental health advice.