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Self-Injury and Self-Harm

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Non-suicidal self-injury (a.k.a. self-injury or self-harm) is the intentional infliction of physical harm to your own body (e.g., cutting, burning, bruising, scratching). Tattoos and piercings (i.e., body modifications) are not considered self-harm. Self-harm is also not the same thing as suicide. Many people think that people who self-injure are suicidal (i.e., they assume that by cutting, the individual is trying to die), which is not true. Not all self-harm is an attempt to die.

Who  does  it?

14-24% of youth and young adults report that they’ve self-injured at least once, and ¼ of these do it regularly. People can start to self-injure at any age, but most often begin as teenagers. In early adolescence, girls are more likely to report that they self-injure, but by late adolescence/early adulthood, self-injury is equally common among men and women. Research has also found that people who face social prejudice (e.g., LGBTQI youth) are more likely to self-injure.

What  are  the  signs?

It can sometimes be hard to tell when someone is self-harming because many people try to hide the outward signs (e.g., by wearing clothing that covers the cuts/scratches/bruises/burns). Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Unexplained cuts, burns, bruises, or scratches, especially on the arms, legs, and stomach.
  • Clothing that isn’t appropriate for the weather/situation but covers significant portions of their body.
  • Hoarding razors/knives and other objects that may be used for self-injury.

How  can  I  help?

If you notice the signs listed above, ask your friend about self-injury. Self-injury doesn’t improve on its own. People need to learn more adaptive and effective coping strategies before they will be able to stop self-harming. Trying to force people to stop self-injuring without teaching them better coping strategies will leave them with no tools for handling their difficult emotions. Learning better coping takes time and patience. Be supportive of your friend’s struggle. Respect his or her right to privacy but don’t promise to keep it a secret. Be honest with him or her about your concerns; encourage him or her to seek help from a counsellor or psychologist; don’t judge; and don’t freak out. Your friend needs your support; let them know they’re not alone.

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