Quick Facts about Mental Illness – Self Injury

Self injury is the act of hurting oneself. The harm is often done through shallow cuts, burns, bruises or other forms of marking the skin. People do this as a coping strategy for psychological pain. They many find that the physical pain of cutting, burning, picking at skin or hair, or punching themselves is a relief from the unbearable pain caused by something in their lives. It’s a way of dealing with deep emotional distress.

Usually self injury is a sign that they don’t have the coping strategies in place to deal with their problems and the self injury provides an outlet for how they are feeling. It may be that feelings of loneliness, depression or anger are causing a buildup of tension.

People who self injure can come from any background. It may impact people who are rich or poor, high school or college students. They may be from any profession. Most often, people who self injure start the behaviour in high school or postsecondary. While this is a serious situation that requires attention and the help of professionals, it is not a cry for attention or a precursor to suicide.

Because self injury is done in private and often in places that can be covered with clothing, people can continue to self harm without anyone knowing. However, family members, close friends and teachers may be the first to notice.

Signs may include:

  • Unexplained wounds or marks or scars near the wrists, arm or legs that are exposed by clothing movement
  • Blood stains on clothing, or tissues
  • Sharp objects such as razors, needles, glass in the person’s belongings
  • Frequent ‘accidents’ to explain injuries
  • Covering up with long sleeves even when the weather is hot
  • Isolation and irritability
  • Wounds that don’t heal due to picking at scabs
  • Puncture marks from items being inserted in the skin
  • Associated behaviours may include reckless driving, binge drinking, unsafe sex and taking too many drugs

If you notice that someone may be self harming try to communicate with the individual and encourage him/her to talk things over with someone they can trust. Counselling and advising staff may be able to assist.

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