Youth and Self-injury
People cope with difficult thoughts, feelings, or situations in different ways. Some people cope by injuring themselves on purpose—and it may be the only way for them to feel better. Self-injury may seem frightening, but it’s important to look beyond the injuries and see what’s really going on.
Self-injury means that someone hurts themself on purpose but doesn’t intend to end their life. Common acts of self-injury include cutting skin, burning skin, hitting yourself to the point of injury, and preventing wounds from healing. Self-injury itself isn’t a mental illness but may be a sign that someone needs care and support. In some cases, self-injury can be a sign of a mental health problem. People self-injure for many different reasons. Some people self-injure:
- To cope with anxiety or depression
- To cope with loss, trauma, violence, or other difficult situations
- To ‘punish’ themselves
- To turn emotional pain into physical pain
- To feel ‘real’ and counter feelings of emptiness or numbness
- To feel euphoria
- To regain control of their bodies
- To simply feel better
Warning Signs include:
- Unexplained frequent injuries
- Unexplained scars
- Wearing long pants and/or long-sleeved shirts, even in warm weather
- Low self-esteem
- Problems handling emotions
- Problems with relationships
Self-injury can affect anyone, but it’s more common during the teenage years and among females. Self-injury is also more likely to affect people who have experienced stressful or traumatic life events, people who have a hard time coping with their feelings, and people who experience low self-esteem.
If you self-injure, it’s important to begin talking with someone you trust. Your support person can help you work through next steps, like talking with a doctor or other health care professional. If you self-injure, it’s important to take care of your injuries. If you’re worried about an injury, talk to your doctor, go to your local emergency room, or call 9-1-1.
Self-injury isn’t a mental illness, but in some cases it can be a sign of a mental health problem. It’s important to talk with your doctor about self-injury and any other problems you’re experiencing. If self-injury is related to a mental illness, treating the mental illness may help you reduce self-injuring behaviours.
If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it’s okay to ask about self-injury. Talking about self-injury won’t make someone start hurting themselves. Self-injury may not make sense to you and you may wonder why someone would hurt themself, but your loved one’s feelings are very real.
Learning more can help you give support that respects your loved one’s experiences. Here are a few tips for helping a loved one:
- Instead of focusing on your loved one’s self-injury behaviours, it may be more helpful to focus on your concern for their well-being.
- Don’t demand that your loved one immediately stop self-injuring. New healthy behaviours take time to learn. Instead, focus on supporting new behaviours and celebrate your loved one’s small steps forward.
- Avoid guilt, shame, or judgement—these can get in the way of open and trusting relationships.
- Seek help or support for yourself, if you need it.