Self-injury is hurting yourself on purpose, but not intending to die as a result. It isn’t a mental illness in itself, but can be a way of dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. You may use it to express feelings you can’t put into words, distract you from your life, or release emotional pain. Afterwards, you probably feel better—at least for a little while. But then the painful feelings return, and you feel the urge to hurt yourself again.
It’s important to know that there are options for treatment and prevention.
What is normal?
If you're injuring yourself on purpose, even in a minor way, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself, reach out for help. Any form of intentional self-injury is a sign of bigger issues that need to be addressed.
What are common signs and symptoms?
Self-injury usually occurs in private, and the arms, legs, and front of the torso are the usual targets. Other signs that someone you care about might be self-injuring include:
- Scars, often in patterns
- Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
- Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
- Keeping sharp objects on hand
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
- Frequent reports of accidental injury
- Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- Behavioural and emotional instability and unpredictability
- Statements of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
Should I seek help?
If you're injuring yourself, even in a minor way, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself, reach out for help. Talk to someone you trust who can help you take the first steps to successful treatment. While you may feel ashamed and embarrassed, you can find supportive, caring, and nonjudgmental help.
If someone you care about is self-injuring, you can help them get help. For a child, start by consulting your doctor or pediatrician who can provide an initial evaluation or a referral to a mental health professional. For a teen friend, suggest that your friend talk to parents, a teacher, a school counsellor, or another trusted adult. For an adult, gently express your concern and encourage the person to seek medical and mental health treatment.
If you've injured yourself severely or believe your injury may be life-threatening, or if you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 immediately.
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