Risk Factors and Indications of Self-Injury or Self-Harm

by Maisie

Self-injury (also called self-harm), an act of causing intentional and direct injury to body tissue, is a growing concern among American adolescents. Nearly 10% of high school boys and 25% of high school girls in the United States injure themselves by means of burning their own skin or cutting themselves. The problem was found most prevalent among 14-year-olds. The incidence declines as the age increases.

Risk Factors

Adolescents thinking about or attempting suicide or experiencing sadness are more likely to commit self-injury. In addition, drug or alcohol use, indulgence in fighting, cyberbullying, and experiencing forced sex also contribute to self-injury in adolescents. Social factors like poor parenting practices, adverse childhood experiences, and negative peer behavior may also raise one’s risk of self-injury and unstable mental health.


The following signs may indicate a self-harming tendency in an individual:

  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, or burns, usually appearing on arms, thighs, wrist, and chest
  • Living in isolation or showing disinterest in speaking to others
  • Self-loathing and showing a desire to punish oneself
  • Staying fully covered, even in hot weather
  • Thinking of ending everything
  • Showing signs of depression, such as tearfulness, low mood, disinterest, or a lack of motivation
  • Displaying low self-esteem, blaming oneself, or a sense of inferiority

Experts do not regard self-injury as a mental illness. It is a negative behavior that arises from a lack of coping skills. Self-injury or self-harm is also known to co-exist with other behavioral problems like depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The urge to cause self-injury may begin with an overwhelming sense of frustration, pain, or anger. People who find it difficult to deal with emotions or are used to hiding their emotions since childhood are more vulnerable and likely to harm themselves. People who complain of not feeling many emotions are also susceptible to harming themselves as the pain helps them replace their emotional numbness. Generally, self-harm is not intended for suicide. In fact, it reflects one’s inability to manage emotional pain, which needs immediate medical attention to avoid suicidal behavior.

Self-injury is a treatable condition. Effective treatment strategies are available to help people with self-harm tendencies recover and feel in control again. Psychotherapy can be efficacious in helping teens learn to manage their emotions and avoid self-harming behavior. In addition, teens in distress also need to learn coping techniques to deal with the thoughts of injuring themselves.

While behavioral therapy is essential in all cases of self-harm, a physician may also prescribe certain medications to help patients deal with difficult emotions. Antidepressants, for example, may be effective in managing harmful urges. Depending on the diagnosis, a doctor may recommend the following therapies to people showing self-harming behavior.

Psychodynamic Therapy

This therapy focuses on analyzing if any past experiences and emotions are leading to the self-harming episodes.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT intends to recognize negative thought patterns as well as help patients enhance their coping skills

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

DBT helps a person with self-harming behavior learn and adopt positive coping methods to decimate violent thoughts.

Adolescents or teens displaying overwhelming or severe symptoms of self-injury may need a short stay in a psychiatric facility. The experts at a facility will ensure that teens suffering from behavioral problems get an optimum healthy environment.

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