People cope with difficult thoughts, feelings, or situations in different ways. Some people cope by injuring themselves on purpose—and it may be the only way for them to feel better. Self-injury may seem frightening, but it’s important to look beyond the injuries and see what’s really going on.
What is self-injury? Self-injury means that someone hurts themself on purpose but doesn’t intend to end their life. Common acts of self-injury include cutting skin, burning skin, hitting yourself to the point of injury, and preventing wounds from healing. Self-injury itself isn’t a mental health challenge, but may be a sign that someone needs care and support. In some cases, self-injury can be a sign of a mental health problem. People self-injure for many different reasons. Some people self-injure:
- To cope with anxiety or depression
- To cope with loss, trauma, violence, or other difficult situations
- To ‘punish’ themselves
- To turn emotional pain into physical pain
- To feel ‘real’ and counter feelings of emptiness or numbness
- To feel euphoria
- To regain control of their bodies
- To simply feel better
People who self-injure are not trying to end their lives, but they can experience those thoughts. When they self-injure, they are trying to cope with difficult or overwhelming thoughts or feelings.
People who self-injure often hide the behaviour. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed, and they may avoid talking about it. Warning signs include:
- Unexplained frequent injuries, such as cuts and burns
- Unexplained scars
- Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts all the time, even in warm weather
- Low self-esteem
- Problems handling emotions
- Problems with relationships
Who does it affect?
Self-injury can affect anyone, but it’s more common during the teenage years and among females. Self-injury is also more likely to affect people who have experienced stressful or traumatic life events, people who have a hard time coping with their feelings, and people who experience low self-esteem.
Counselling and support
If self-injury isn’t related to a mental health challenge, it’s still best to talk with a mental health professional or a school counsellor.