Self-injury refers to bringing self-inflicted physical harm to your own body. This self-mutilation can take many forms including burning or cutting yourself, pulling hair, scratching, and swallowing toxic substances. According to the Cornell Research Program, most people who participate in this type of behavior do so in secret and use multiple methods. Acts of self-injury are physically violent and intentional. But despite popular opinion, these actions are not suicidal. Instead, experts view this behavior as a way of coping with difficult emotions. These acts may also be a way of relieving emotional pain. According to Cornell, previous research has found that one in five self-injurious college students admitted to hurting themselves more than intended on at least one occasion. One in 10 self-injurious students from the same study said they’d inflicted injuries that were serious enough to warrant medical attention. Even so, many people with this condition do not seek medical treatment.

Who tends commit self-injury?

According to Mental Health America (MHA), about 1 percent of the U.S. population participates in self-injury. It is most prevalent among girls and usually begins around puberty. MHA reports that the behavior persists an average of five to 10 years. In nearly half of all cases, the patient has a history of physical and/or sexual abuse, according to MHA. Symptoms of self-injury include frequent and unexplained injuries, wearing long sleeves and pants (even in warm weather), low confidence, and difficulty concentrating at work or school.  


When it comes to treatment, MHA reports that it is most sought among middle to upper class girls. Treating self-injurious behavior usually involves cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Therapy can help teach patients how to recognize negative thought patterns, while adopting healthier alternatives. Medications can be effective in managing depression and/or anxiety. In extreme cases, the patient may have to be hospitalized to ensure his or her safety.

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