Self-harm is a difficult topic for many people to understand and discuss. It may not make sense from the outside looking in. But self-harm is a serious, progressive, and potentially fatal struggle for those who struggle with the behavior.
Research shows that an estimated 4% of adults and 15% of teenagers in the United States report some form of self-injury. Additionally, rates of self-harm are highest among college-age students, ranging between 17% and 35%.1
Why do people self-harm, what causes these behaviors, and how can you find help if you’re struggling?
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm occurs when someone intentionally damages, harms, or injures their body. Common methods include cutting, scratching, or burning the skin, or punching objects or oneself. Most people who self-harm hurt themselves in multiple ways.
While self-harm is a common symptom of suicidal ideation, not everyone who self-harms has suicidal thoughts. This second form, called nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), is as much a cause for concern and care as injury with ideation. But regardless of ideation or intent, why do people self-harm?
Reasons People May Self-Harm
People engage in self-harm for a variety of reasons. There are no fixed rules or set reasons that people intentionally harm themselves. For some, it correlates with specific events or experiences that occur. Others use it as a way to control their feelings and emotions. It may be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), or depression. Still, others don’t completely understand why they engage in self-harm.
Again, rates of self-harm are highest among adolescents and young adults. They are going through life-altering events with very few coping skills. If they aren’t taught healthy, effective ways to manage emotions, they may turn to behaviors like self-harm.2
Some of the many causes of emotional distress that lead to self-harm include:
- Pressure at school or work
- Loss of a job
- Getting bad grades or failing classes
- Arguments with family members
- Problems in friendships or relationships
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of depression, anxiety, or stress
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Confusion or fear of sexual or gender identity
- Illness or other health problems
- Experience with the criminal justice system
- Loss of a loved one
- Living with mental illness or other mental health troubles
Anyone who considers these behaviors “attention-seeking” only diminishes the person’s feelings. This makes it harder to reach out about their struggles. Regardless of why people self-harm, you should always take it seriously and make sure they receive help.
Connections Between Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation
Self-injury and suicidal ideation are closely connected. Not everyone who self-harms experiences suicidal ideation, but many people with suicidal ideation self-harm.3 Evidence shows a clear link between the two conditions.
It’s important that anyone dealing with self-injury receive timely and proper care. Behaviors should never be dismissed as simply coping in case there are deeper conditions at play. Mental health treatment is the first line of defense for anyone experiencing self-harm or suicidal ideation.
Finding Help for Self-Harm
Thankfully, help is available for anyone experiencing thoughts or behaviors with self-harm. It can feel difficult or embarrassing to ask for help, but many people struggle to do so. Though it may feel that way, you’re never alone in your experiences. Facilities like LifeSkills South Florida offer a pathway to freedom from self-harm and other mental health struggles.
Lifeskills South Florida is dedicated to providing comprehensive, understanding care for anyone trying to manage self-harm. We will help you uncover your underlying struggles and develop healthy coping strategies to handle your emotions. To learn more, please call us at 866-321-9430 or reach out to us today!
- Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. (2010). Nonsuicidal Self-Injury.
- Mental Health America. (2021). Self-Injury (Cutting, Self-Harm or Self-Mutilation).
- National Health Service. (2021). Why people self-harm.