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Self-injury, synonymous with self-harm, refers to the non-suicidal act of deliberately harming one’s own body. While the most common form of self-injury is cutting, there are a number of ways in which an individual can harm themselves, such as:

  • Breaking bones
  • Hitting or punching
  • Burning (with matches, cigarettes, hot objects, etc.)
  • Head banging
  • Carving symbols into skin
  • Piercing
  • Picking at a wound that interferes with healing
  • Biting
  • Pulling out hair

There is no diagnostic test for self-injury, rather diagnosis is based on a physical and psychological evaluation. 

Signs and Symptoms

Every person is unique and those that struggle with self-harm may exhibit slightly different signs and symptoms. Some of the possible examples that may indicate that an individual is engaging in self-harming behavior could include, but are not limited to any combination of the following, provided by Delta Specialty Hospital:

  • Cuts or burn marks on legs, arms, abdomen
  • Hiding sharp objects (e.g., box cutters, knives, razor blades)
  • Bizarre excuses for injuries 
  • Strange scars on one’s body
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Broken bones
  • Agitation 
  • Wearing long sleeve clothes in hot weather
  • Depression
  • Difficulty with interpersonal relationships
  • Emotional instability
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Self-imposed social isolation

Many people that engage in self-harming behaviors will do so in a location on their body’s that is not visible. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for an individual to become attached to their scars and will repeat the behaviors directly over them (e.g., cutting in the same spot). This behavior occurs as an individual self-harming views his or her scars as a physical sign of strength, which is reinforced by inflicting, continued self-harming behaviors in the same location.

Treatment Options

There are a variety of treatment options available for an individual struggling with self-harm. Typically, self-injury is most effectively treated by attending a formalized treatment program. There are outpatient mental health programs that require an individual to participate in the treatment program for a certain number of hours, daily. There are also acute inpatient mental health treatment programs that offer twenty-four-hour care and support throughout the duration of the program. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary. Regardless of the format, an individual in treatment for self-injury will be provided with a customized treatment plan to accommodate his or her nuanced needs. Generally, the treatment protocol for individuals that engage in self-harm will include some combination of different psychotherapy approaches. Certain therapeutic modalities that are commonly integrated into treatment plans include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), expressive arts therapies, and more. Depending on one’s needs, treatment plans may also include medication. Certain medications can be helpful in decreasing uncomfortable symptoms associated with other underlying mental health issues, which in turn can reduce the urge to self-harm. 

Disclaimer: 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.