Oftentimes, people mistake self-injurious behaviors (SIB) for suicidal behaviors. For example, a parent discovers that her adolescent daughter has cut her wrist and immediately believes that her child has attempted suicide or is contemplating suicide. This is a natural and common reaction, and it reflects the very complex issues that surround SIB and suicidal behaviors. In reality, SIB may indeed represent an attempt at suicide or appear as a precursor for suicidal behaviors. However, SIB can also occur entirely separately from suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Understanding the triggers and motivation underlying such behaviors is a critical piece of determining the level and intensity of treatment needed.
Upon first meeting with an individual, we conduct a thorough risk assessment, which involves assessing for current suicidal thoughts, plans, and intent, as well as any history of suicidal thoughts or actions. This initial questioning also involves asking the individual about any self-harming behaviors, when they have occurred, how frequently they occur, and the thoughts/feelings/events that precede them. Through detailed questioning and discussion, a tentative treatment plan is developed. Differentiating between SIB and suicidal thoughts/behaviors is critical in determining immediate treatment needs. It is also vital that these issues be addressed on an ongoing basis, and treatment adjusted accordingly.
If you or a loved one are engaging in SIB, seeking professional treatment is the safest and most effective means of stopping these harmful behaviors and learning healthy ways of coping with life’s stressors and negative emotions. If you are having thoughts of suicide or have witnessed a loved one verbalize suicidal thoughts or engage in suicidal behaviors, please seek immediate assistance by calling 911 or going to your nearest emergency room.