Awareness of Self-Harm

This is part one of a two series blog on self harm. 

Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. After self-harming you may feel a short-term release, but the cause of your distress has not disappeared. Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions and could make you feel worse.

Forms of Self Harm

Self-harm typically occurs in private and is done in a controlled or ritualistic manner. Some forms of self-harm include:

  • Cutting
  • Scratching
  • Burning 
  • Carving words or symbols on the skin
  • Self-hitting, punching, or head banging
  • Piercing the skin
  • Inserting objects under the skin

The arms, legs, and front torso are commonly the targets of self-injury, but any area of the body may be used. People who self-injure may use more than one method to harm themselves.

Why People Self-Harm

There is no one single factor that causes someone to self-harm. It may result from poor coping skills and/or the inability to cope in healthy ways to psychological pain. Some self-harm because of an inability to regulate, express, or understand emotions. The emotions that often trigger self-harm are complex and may involve feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, panic, anger, guilt, rejection, self-hatred, or confused sexuality. 

Some people have described self-harm as a way to:

  • express something that is difficult to put into words
  • convert invisible thoughts or feelings into something visible
  • turn emotional pain into physical pain
  • decrease overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts
  • create a sense of control
  • escape traumatic memories
  • punish themselves for their feelings and experiences
  • stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated
  • create a reason to physically care for themselves
  • express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life.

Self-Harm Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 25% of people engage in self-harm. Up to 30% of teenage girls and 10% of boys report having intentionally hurt themselves. These percentages reflect a significant increase over the past 10 years, especially among girls. Self-harm increased 166% in girls aged 10-14 and 62% in girls ages 15-19. Since 2009, the rate of cutting, the most common form of self-harm, among girls ages 10-14 has increased 18.8% each year.

Next week, we’ll look at risk factors to self-harm, warning signs of it, and ways to prevent and treat it.