Information for Patients
A poison is any substance that is harmful to your body. You might swallow it, inhale it, inject it, or absorb it through your skin. Any substance can be poisonous if too much is taken. Poisons can include
- Prescription or over-the-counter medicines taken in doses that are too high
- Overdoses of illegal drugs
- Carbon monoxide from gas appliances
- Household products, such as laundry powder or furniture polish
- Indoor or outdoor plants
- Metals such as lead and mercury
The effects of poisoning range from short-term illness to brain damage, coma, and death. To prevent poisoning it is important to use and store products exactly as their labels say. Keep dangerous products where children can't get to them. Treatment for poisoning depends on the type of poison. If you suspect someone has been poisoned, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 right away.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm, or self-injury, is when a person hurts his or her own body on purpose. The injuries may be minor, but sometimes they can be severe. They may leave permanent scars or cause serious health problems. Some examples are
- Cutting yourself (such as using a razor blade, knife, or other sharp object to cut your skin)
- Punching yourself or punching things (like a wall)
- Burning yourself with cigarettes, matches, or candles
- Pulling out your hair
- Poking objects through body openings
- Breaking your bones or bruising yourself
Self-harm is not a mental disorder. It is a behavior - an unhealthy way to cope with strong feelings. However, some of the people who harm themselves do have a mental disorder.
People who harm themselves are usually not trying to kill themselves. But they are at higher risk of attempting suicide if they do not get help.
Why do people harm themselves?
There are different reasons why people harm themselves. Often, they have trouble coping and dealing with their feelings. They harm themselves to try to
- Make themselves feel something, when they feel empty or numb inside
- Block upsetting memories
- Show that they need help
- Release strong feelings that overwhelm them, such as anger, loneliness, or hopelessness
- Punish themselves
- Feel a sense of control
Who is at risk for self-harm?
There are people of all ages who harm themselves, but it usually starts in the teen or early adult years. Self-harm is more common in people who
- Were abused or went through a trauma as children
- Have mental disorders, such as
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Certain personality disorders
- Abuse drugs or alcohol
- Have friends who self-harm
- Have low self-esteem
What are the signs of self-harm?
Signs that someone may be hurting themselves include
- Having frequent cuts, bruises, or scars
- Wearing long sleeves or pants even in hot weather
- Making excuses about injuries
- Having sharp objects around for no clear reason
How can I help someone who self-harms?
If someone you know is self-harming, it is important not to be judgmental. Let that person know that you want to help. If the person is a child or teenager, ask him or her to talk to a trusted adult. If he or she won't do that, talk to a trusted adult yourself. If the person who is self-harming is an adult, suggest mental health counseling.
What the treatments are for self-harm?
There are no medicines to treat self-harming behaviors. But there are medicines to treat any mental disorders that the person may have, such as anxiety and depression. Treating the mental disorder may weaken the urge to self-harm.
Mental health counseling or therapy can also help by teaching the person
- Problem-solving skills
- New ways to cope with strong emotions
- Better relationship skills
- Ways to strengthen self-esteem
If the problem is severe, the person may need more intensive treatment in a psychiatric hospital or a mental health day program.