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Self-harm (Self-injury): Causes, Symptoms, Types, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

Feb 22, 2024

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Causes Of Self-harm

Symptoms Of Self-harm

Types of self-harm

Risk Factors Of Self-harm

Diagnosis Of Self-harm

Treatment Of Self-harm



Hospital stays

Prevention Of Self-harm

Complications Of Self-harm

Self-harm (Self-injury)

Self-harm, often referred to as nonsuicidal self-injury, is the deliberate infliction of harm on oneself, such as cutting or burning oneself. Suicide attempts are not usually planned. Self-harming in this way is a risky way to cope with stress, loss, anger, and other negative emotions.

While self-harming might provide momentary relief from psychological and physical stress, it is usually followed by shame and regret as well as the return of negative emotions. While most incidents of life-threatening injuries are accidental, there are instances of more severe or even fatal self-harm.

Getting the correct medical attention might help you learn more healthy coping techniques.

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Causes Of Self-harm

Self-harming behaviors rarely have simple or obvious causes. Self-harm can generally be brought on by:

  • Poor coping tactics: Nonsuicidal self-harm is usually caused by an inability to cope with stress and emotional pain in a healthy way.
  • Unable to regulate their feelings: Self-harm may result from a complex combination of emotions. Among the emotions that can be experienced include worthlessness, loneliness, anxiety, fury, regret, rejection, and self-hatred. Bullying and uncertainty about one's sexual orientation are just two examples of the range of emotions.

The goal of self-harm can be:

  • Create a feeling of relief while reducing or controlling excessive worry or anxiety.
  • By causing physical harm, you can divert attention away from unpleasant feelings.
  • Having control over one's emotions, circumstances in life, and physical self.
  • Feel everything, even physical discomfort when you're feeling hollow on the inside.
  • Open up to the outside world about your innermost feelings and thoughts.

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Symptoms Of Self-harm

Symptoms of self-harm can include:

  • Scars are usually arranged in patterns.
  • Fresh cuts, bruises, bite marks, scratches, or other wounds.
  • Applying too much pressure to anything to make it burn.
  • Cover up with long sleeves or long trousers, even in warm weather.
  • Reports of accidental injury that keep happening.
  • Issues in relationships with other individuals.
  • Quick changes in impulsive, intense, and unanticipated feelings and behaviors.
  • Speak of helplessness, despair, or worthlessness.

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Types of self-harm

Most cases of self-harm are done in secret. Usually, it is carried out in a controlled manner, or in the same way each time, forming a pattern on the skin. Examples of self-harm include:

  • One of the most common methods is to cut, scratch, or stab someone with a sharp item.
  • Burning with hot, sharp objects like matches, cigarettes, or knives.
  • Putting phrases or characters on the skin.
  • Self-harm, head beating, biting, or punching.
  • Puncture wounds on the skin from sharp things.
  • Putting items below the surface.

The arms, legs, chest, and belly are the most prevalent areas where self-harm occurs. But any bodily part could be the target, sometimes using more than one method.

Many people give up after injuring themselves just once or twice. For others, on the other hand, self-harm becomes a more ingrained habit.

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Risk Factors Of Self-harm

While people of all ages can self-harm, teens and young adults are more likely to do so. Adolescence and the early teen years are commonly when self-harm begins because this is when emotional shifts occur quickly, frequently, and unpredictably. Along with loneliness and peer pressure, teens are also more prone to quarrel with their parents.

A few things can increase the likelihood of self-harm, including:

  • Having friends that hurt themselves: If someone has friends who intentionally damage themselves, they are more likely to begin doing the same.
  • Challenges in life: Those who have previously gone through traumatizing events such as sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect, or other painful experiences, may be more prone to self-harm. This could also be the result of growing up in an unstable household. Other risk factors are social isolation and uncertainty about one's sexual orientation or identity.
  • Disorders of the mind: When someone has trouble solving problems and is very critical of themselves, they are more likely to self-harm. Furthermore, a number of mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others, are strongly correlated with self-harm.
  • Misuse of drugs or alcohol: The risk of self-harm increases when using recreational drugs or alcohol.

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Diagnosis Of Self-harm

While some people may ask for help, there are instances in which friends or relatives become aware of self-harm. On the other hand, a doctor performing a routine physical examination might find clues like scars or recent trauma.

There isn't a specific test to detect self-harm. A diagnosis is determined after a medical and psychological evaluation. You may be sent to a mental health professional who specializes in treating self-harm cases for assessment. This expert and you talk about your life, thoughts, feelings, and deeds.

A mental health professional may also evaluate you for depression or personality disorders, two other mental health conditions linked to self-harm.

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Treatment Of Self-harm

You must first tell someone about your self-harming behavior in order to get support. Your treatment plan will be based on your particular issues as well as any co-occurring mental health concerns (such as depression). Self-harm can become a major part of your life, therefore it's critical to get treatment from a mental health professional with experience in treating self-harm.

The treatment plan takes into account both the self-harming activity and any mental health conditions that may be related to it, such as depression or borderline personality disorder.

Here are further specifics about the therapies that are offered.


Psychotherapy, commonly known as talk therapy or psychiatric counseling, can help you with the following:

  • Identify and deal with the underlying issues that cause self-harm.
  • Learn coping mechanisms for stress management.
  • Become more adept at managing intense emotions.
  • Learn how to have a positive self-image.
  • Discover how to improve your interpersonal and social skills.
  • Develop methods for tackling productive problems.

Several individual psychotherapy modalities may be helpful, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps identify negative, maladaptive attitudes and behaviors and helps replace them with positive, constructive behaviors. You can also pick up techniques that can help you perform well in a range of situations.
  • One type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) called dialectical behavior therapy teaches behavioral strategies to help you better control your emotions, deal with suffering, and build relationships with others.
  • Therapies that help you live in the present while managing difficult emotions and negative thoughts. These therapies are grounded in mindfulness. They can help you feel better overall and reduce hopelessness and anxiety.

Your practitioner may recommend group or family therapy in addition to individual treatment sessions.


No treatment is available to treat self-harm. Still, if your doctor diagnoses you with a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, you may be prescribed antidepressants or other drugs to treat the underlying illness that is linked to self-harm. Treatment for various conditions may reduce the impulse to injure oneself.

Hospital stays

Your doctor may suggest that you be taken to a hospital for mental health therapy if you injure yourself severely or frequently. While you work through an issue, short-term treatment in a hospital may provide a safe environment and more focused medical attention. An alternative could be mental health day treatment programs that place a strong emphasis on teaching behavioral coping techniques to manage discomfort.

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Prevention Of Self-harm

One cannot prevent someone from injuring oneself. Nonetheless, some strategies work with communities as well as individuals to reduce the risk of self-harm. Parents, relatives, coaches, friends, and school nurses can assist.

  • Identify a person who is in trouble and help them. Someone prone to stress might learn more effective coping mechanisms for dealing with life's obstacles and stress. A person can learn healthy coping strategies to employ throughout difficult circumstances.
  • Encourage useful social media sites. One can improve their communication and interpersonal skills by cultivating healthy interactions with those who do not self-harm.
  • Tell your friends to come to you for help. Peers are usually loyal to their friends. Instead of keeping things quiet, encourage children, teens, and young adults to seek help when they have concerns about a friend or family member.
  • Talk about how the media has an impact. News outlets, music, and other well-known platforms that promote self-harming may encourage kids and teenagers who have mental or emotional health issues to try new things. The bad impacts could be mitigated if children are taught to question the influences in their surroundings.

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Complications Of Self-harm

Self-harm can cause the following complications:

  • Decreasing feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem.
  • Infection, by sharing tools, or by being hurt.
  • Physical wounds that endure, like scars.
  • Underlying issues and symptoms deteriorate in the absence of proper care.
  • Serious injury with a substantial risk of death.
  • Suicide risk

Self-harm is not always a suicide attempt, but the mental health conditions that cause it can increase the likelihood of suicide. Furthermore, there may be a higher chance of suicide if a person tends to injure their body in trying circumstances.

Also Read: Spinal And Cardiac Poisons

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