March 1 is Self-Injury Awareness Day, as well as the beginning of Self-Harm Awareness Month. Self harm can be found in many forms – from cutting, burning or scratching oneself, to punching or kicking objects, to the most frequent method to result in hospitalization, which is poisoning oneself with alcohol, chemicals, illegal drugs or prescription narcotics drug misuse. According to Julia Wu, manager of Decision Support Services at the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), “increasingly, young people are engaging in self-harm behavior and this is most likely a coping mechanism toward handling stresses or very distressing emotions.”
What further complicates prevention is that oftentimes both the stress or emotions fueling the self-injury, as well as the self-harm activity is kept secretive. According to the CIHI, there is a misconception that self-injury is done to gain attention or as a precursor to suicide. In fact, it’s an activity that often goes unspoken and unnoticed. According to the CDC, in 2005 to 2009 in the U.S., cutting and piercing, the most commonly-performed method of self-injury, accounted for 26.3 percent of self-harm injuries for people aged 10-24 years. CIHI found a 110% increase in the rate of self-harm-related hospitalizations among girls and 35 percent increase among boys in Canada.
The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery outlines what schools should include in their protocol for handling cases of non-suicidal self-injury:
- Identifying self-injury
- Assessing self-injury
- Designating individuals to serve as the point person or people at the school for managing self-injury cases and next steps
- Determining under what circumstances parents should be contacted
- Managing active student self-injury (with the student, peers, parents, and external referrals)
- Determining when and how to issue an outside referral
- Identifying external referral sources and contact information
- Educating staff and students about self-injury
For more information about non-suicidal self-injury, the National Association of School Psychologists’ (NASP) has published “Self-Mutilation: Information and Guidance for School Personnel,” that defines causes of self-mutilation, effective intervention methods and additional resources. Additionally, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) outlines the ethical and legal considerations for handling these cases.
Understanding and data is critical to building prevention strategies. PublicSchoolWORKS offers a staff training course on Self-Injury to help educators recognize the signs and appropriate intervention strategies. Further, the PublicSchoolWORKS award-winning Student Safety Reporting System allows students and parents to anonymously report concerns via both online and telephone hotlines. To request the Self-Injury course, or to learn more about the Student Safety Reporting System, email us.