Self-harm or self-injury is when a person hurts him or herself on purpose without wanting to die by suicide. Self-harming, when done to one’s body, is also referred to a Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI).
Self-harming behaviours can happen at any age, but 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 and girls. 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 accidently 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 looking at other options for 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. But a few people who practise 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 nine times at risk for suicide attempts.
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, there are things you can do to help:
Current as of: July 12, 2017
Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services
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