Self-harm or self-injury is when a person hurts themselves on purpose without wanting to die by suicide. Self-harming, when done to your own body, is also referred to a Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI).
Self-harming behaviours can happen at any age, and are more common among youth than any other age group. The behaviour often starts in the preteen or early teen years. Self-harming behaviours happen equally in boys, girls, non-binary youth, and in the LGTBQ+ community. Common self-harming behaviours include:
Self-harming behaviours may happen often, sometimes every day, or may only happen once. Some people may engage in self-harm to help deal with tense feelings and help manage distress and emotional pain. Each person may have different reasons for self-harming. These behaviours don’t solve the reasons that lead people to self-harm, but can offer a person a sense of relief from how strong their emotions feel.
When someone self-harms, they may accidentally hurt themselves more than they intended to, or the area they injure may become infected. People who self-harm need to be talked to in a supportive, non-judgmental manner so they can consider other ways of coping and self-management.
People may self-harm to:
Most people who self-harm do not want to die. Their self-harm is used to deal with intense emotions and feelings. A few people who practice self-harm do so with suicidal intent.
Although self-harming is different than suicidal behaviour, the risk of suicide is still a concern. While self-harm is not a suicide attempt, it can be a major risk factor for suicide. Those who self-harm may be at a higher risk for suicide attempts than those who don't self-harm.
If someone is self-harming, it may be helpful for them to see a knowledgeable professional who can offer them support and assess if there is a likelihood of suicide.
If you know a person who self-harms, it’s normal to feel frustrated, confused, or scared. Self-harm is a sign that a person is in distress. Approaching the person with compassion may help. Here are some things you can do to help:
Current as of: March 30, 2020
Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services
This material is for information purposes only. It should not be used in place of medical advice, instruction, or treatment. If you have questions, talk with your doctor or appropriate healthcare provider. This information may be printed and distributed without permission for non-profit, education purposes. The content on this page may not be changed without consent of the author. Contact email@example.com.