Self Injury

Self-injury is also called self-mutilation, self-harm or self-abuse. It is the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive and non-lethal harming of one’s self. Behaviors may include:

  • Cutting
  • Scratching
  • Picking scabs or interfering with wound healing
  • Burning
  • Punching self or objects
  • Infecting ones self
  • Inserting objects in body openings
  • Bruising or breaking bones
  • Some forms of hair-pulling
  • Various other forms of bodily harm

Incidence, Onset, Background, Behavior Patterns, Reasons for Behaviors

Self-injurers comprise about 1% of the population and there are more females than males who self-injure. Onset typically occurs at puberty and often lasts 5-10 years, but can persist longer without proper treatment. Although not exclusively, most self-injurers come from middle to upper class backgrounds, are of average to high intelligence, and have low self-esteem. Physical and/or sexual abuse may be part of the self-injurer’s background. Eating disorders, alcohol or substance abuse may also be problems. Common cutting areas are the arms or legs, and self-injurers may attempt to conceal resulting scars with clothing. Self-injurers commonly report feeling empty inside, over or under stimulated, unable to express their feelings, lonely, and not understood by others. Their self-injury is often a way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings and is generally not a suicide attempt. If not treated early, a self-destructive cycle often develops.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Self-harm behaviors can be a symptom of several psychiatric illnesses such as Personality Disorders, Bi-Polar Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as well as psychoses such as Schizophrenia. Diagnosis can only be determined by a qualified mental health professional. Treatment options vary and often utilize a combination of medication, cognitive/behavioral therapy, and interpersonal therapy, supplemented by other treatment services as needed.

If you see these behaviors, contact your child’s school counselor, nurse, school psychologist or family physician.