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Many people conflate suicidal ideation and self-harm behaviors. Often, an automatic assumption is made that those who self-harm intend for it to end their lives, but this is not typically the case. It gets more confusing when people go too far in their self-harm behaviors to the point where they risk their life and require medical attention. Let Protected Roots Integrative (PRI) Treatment Center help you better understand these concepts and how to address them.

The DSM-5 defines suicidal ideation as, “recurrent thoughts that are focused on active plans to kill oneself”.  Suicidal ideations are any thought of ending one’s life, no matter how persistent or fleeting. Studies have shown that 2-3% of people who suffer from suicidal ideations will die from suicide, though different factors such as adolescent impulsivity, sexual and gender identity, and family history of suicide can increase the risk of someone ending their own life.  

Self-harm is defined as any behaviors that inflict physical damage to one’s body. Common self-harm methods include cutting, hitting yourself in the head, and burning.  People who self-harm typically do so as a means to cope when they are overwhelmed with their emotions. There can be a pattern similar to addiction, where the relief gained from engaging in self-harm behaviors can result in increased frequency and intensity of the use of self-harm behaviors. 

To further complicate things, one of the most common symptoms in adolescents with suicidal tendencies is self-harm. If your child is hurting themselves, whether this is with the intention to end their life or not, please take them to be assessed by a mental health professional as soon as possible. Even if your child does not self-harm, this does not preclude them from suicidal ideation. Not all people who end their own lives exhibit self-harm behaviors. Some additional warning signs are: 

– general mood change/depressive mood 

– lack of engagement in activities that used to spark joy 

– giving away once prized belongings 

– expressions of love/feelings that seem sudden and out of character 

As a caregiver, if you are unsure how to assess for the risk that your child is showing or reporting, please utilize any of the following crisis resources that are available 24 hours, 7 days a week: 

– Call “988” (Suicide and Lifeline) 

– Text “741741” (Crisis Text Line) 

– Call a local mobile crisis unit or “911” for a wellness check 

PRI offers support to teenagers who may be self-harming or having suicidal ideation. Our primary goal, like yours, is to keep your child safe. If you are concerned about your child’s safety, please reach out to us immediately using our contact form.


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