Picking at a hangnail or dry patch of skin is common practice, but some people continue their picking of skin whether there is something to pick at or not. Skin picking is a condition characterized by repetitive and compulsive picking of the skin. People with the disorder continue the behavior to the point of bleeding or bruising but cannot stop it.
Skin picking on its own is not necessarily a form of self-harm. It is often used as a way to cope with anxiety or stress and may be a sign of a compulsive condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, some people use the picking of skin as a way to self-harm. How can you identify if a loved one is dealing with a skin-picking disorder or self-harm?
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm involves the deliberate act of causing harm to the body but without suicidal intent. It’s a more common problem than people may realize. About 17% of adolescents engaged in nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) in the past year, and about 15% of college students reported the same.1 Adolescents and young adults are more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors than adults, with only about 5% of adults reporting active behaviors.
Forms of Self-Harm
There are a variety of forms of self-harm, including cutting, burning, hitting or punching objects or themselves, or skin picking. The primary difference between obsessive-compulsive conditions that cause picking of skin versus self-harm is the intent. Skin picking is a self-injury behavior when the person does so with the intent to hurt themselves.
When Self-Harm Progresses
Forms of self-harm can range from mild to moderate to severe. NSSI led to a staggering 187,000 emergency room visits in 2020 alone.2 However, the potential numbers for dangerous self-harm behaviors are likely much higher. One study showed that one-third of college students who reported NSSI admitted they should have seen a medical professional for their injuries, but only 5% of those students sought care.3
Self-harm typically is a symptom of a mental health condition like depression but does not necessarily indicate suicidal ideation, especially when the behavior first starts. Some people who harm themselves do so as a way to regulate their emotions or feel a sense of control over their lives. However, the more frequent or long-term the self-harm becomes, the more likely it could progress into suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts. If you notice that a loved one is self-harming, you should make sure they get help immediately.
How to Find Help
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to find help for your loved one. Mental health treatment is a vital part of the lives of those in recovery from self-harm and other mental health disorders. LifeSkills South Florida is a network of treatment facilities offering excellent care for anyone with a mental health or substance use disorder.
If your loved one is struggling with self-harm, depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, please reach out to us. You can call us at 954-953-1742 or submit an online request form to speak with an admissions specialist about our services. We’ll learn more about your loved one and help you determine the best program for their needs. You and your loved ones never need to deal with difficulties alone—we’re here to walk with you every step of the way.
- American Psychological Association. (2015). Who self-injures?.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Suicide and Self-Harm Injury.
- Journal of American College Health. (2011). Nonsuicidal Self-injury in a College Population.