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Fast Facts

Learn more about crisis issues like suicide, self-harm, and depression, including how to get help.

Self-Harm: Everything from fast facts to getting help


What is self-harm?

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Self-harm, also known as self-injury, self-mutilation, or more method-specific terms like "cutting" or "burning," is the act of purposely causing physical harm to oneself. It usually happens without the intent to die -- that is, not as a suicide attempt.

People who hurt themselves most often start as teens or young adults. Because people who self-injure frequently hide their injuries from others, it can be difficult to identify.

There are many different types of self-harm, which cause varying degrees of damage. All forms should be taken seriously.

Why Do People Self-Harm?

People self-harm for a variety of reasons. Understanding the reason someone is hurting themselves is often an important step to supporting them. Examples of reasons include:

  1. Coping with stress. For some people, self-harm becomes a way of dealing with negative emotions and transitions.

  2. Distraction. Self-harm is used by some people as a way of taking their minds off overwhelming emotions.

  3. To feel something physical. People who feel numb, often from trauma, may self-harm to experience the physical sensation it causes.

  4. Sense of control. Individuals who feel their lives are out of their control might hurt themselves because self-injury is something they feel they can control.

  5. Self-punishment. People experiencing extreme shame or guilt may turn to self-harm to give themselves the pain they feel they deserve.

  6. Expressing emotions. Some people find their emotions so painful that they struggle to put them into words. Other people feel that they shouldn't express their emotions because they have been socialized not to do so. These individuals may use self-injury to show others how they're feeling rather than telling them.

Risks of Self-Injury

Self-harm has physical, emotional, and social effects.

Physical Effects

  1. Permanent scars

  2. Uncontrolled bleeding

  3. Infection

Emotional Effects

  1. Guilt or shame

  2. Diminished sense of self, including feeling helpless or worthless

  3. Addiction to the behavior

Social Effects

  1. Avoiding friends and loved ones

  2. Becoming ostracized from loved ones who may not understand

  3. Interpersonal difficulty from lying to others about injuries

The risk of accidental death by self-injury is very real, and varies based on the method.

Treatment and Recovery: How Do You Stop Self-Harming?

It's normal to want to quit self-harming, but feel unable to. Even knowing the risks, many struggle to break themselves away from the cycle. But it is possible. Here are some of the key steps:

  1. Name your reason for hurting yourself, and your reason for quitting. Ask yourself: "What do I feel before, during, and after self-injury? Which of those emotions do I actively seek out, and which are harmful?"

  2. Identify other ways of achieving the same result. For example, if you self-harm for the physical sensation, seek other ways of releasing endorphins, like exercise. If you self-harm to express your emotions, practice expressing them in words by writing them down.

  3. Tackle the underlying emotions. Explore the feelings that lead you to want to hurt yourself. If it's guilt, where is that guilt coming from?

  4. Tell someone you trust. Let a friend, family member, or trusted adult know what you're going through and that you need their support.

  5. Text Crisis Text Line. We're here to listen, never to judge. Text Crisis Text Line at 741741 in the US or 686868 in Canada.

Calm Harm For: Teens | App | Service | Timed activities to help resist or manage self-harm urges with ability to log completed activities and tracks progress.
Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and RecoveryFor: All Ages | PDF | Informative | Lists numerous distraction techniques and alternative coping skills for dealing with self-harm.
Help Guide on Cutting and Self-HarmFor: All Ages | PDF | Informative | Provides information on cutting and self-harm, including identifying triggers, finding new coping techniques, and how to support a loved one who cuts or self-harms.
To Write Love on Her ArmsFor: All Ages | Website | Support | Finds help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicidal thoughts..
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