What is Self-Injury?
Self-injury, or self-harm is the act of inflicting injuries on one’s own body. Forms of self injury can include cutting, burning, scratching, pulling out hair, carving words or symbols into the skin, piercing or puncturing skin with various objects, hitting oneself, intentionally hitting or slamming into walls or other hard objects, and picking at or intentionally interfering with injuries or wounds that are healing.
Why Do Young People Self-Injure?
The short answer is that self-injury is an attempt to cope. It is an unhealthy coping mechanism that individuals turn to when they haven’t developed or fail to utilize healthy coping skills. Some adolescents self-injure for the following reasons:
- To deal with, distract from, or feel relief from negative feelings
- To feel a sense of control when their life feels out of control
- To express or release emotions that they feel unable or embarrassed to express in another way
- To cope with overwhelming mental or emotional pain
- To feel alive or feel anything at all, as a relief from numbness
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Self-Injury?
- Cuts, scratches, burns or other injuries
- An individual who claims to be accident prone in order to explain recurring injuries
- Wearing unseasonably warm clothing (long sleeves and long pants even in hot weather)
- Keeping a collection of sharp objects on hand
- Frequent blood stains on clothing, towels, tissues
- Impulsive or unstable behavior
- Difficulties with relationships
- Secretive behavior
- Expressing feelings of worthlessness
What Are the Dangers of Self-Injury?
- Becoming reliant on an unhealthy coping mechanism
- Decreased self-esteem and increased guilt and shame
- Failure to address, heal, or solve the underlying issues
- Wound infections
- Permanent scars
- Potentially dangerous or fatal wounds
- Increased risk for drug and alcohol use or suicide
How to Help Adolescents Who Are Self-Injuring
- Begin a conversation with them. Visit our “Talking With Youth About Depression, Self-Injury or Suicide” page for guidance.
- Create a prevention and intervention plan as a family.
- Visit our “Treatment and Support Resources” page to get connected to professional help.