Why do people self-harm?
It’s human instinct to avoid pain. We’re taught from childhood to be cautious around hot stoves and sharp objects so we won’t get hurt. Because of this, motivations behind self-harm, which can include cutting, burning, or otherwise hurting oneself, can seem hard to understand. People self-harm for different reasons. Some use it to cope with or make visible pain, stress, and other intense feelings. Some say that it allows for a feeling of control, or provides temporary relief of emotional tension. Some say it can be a way to feel emotions when you feel numb. If you’re struggling with self-harm, or know someone who is, you should know that you’re not alone. Research shows that one third to one half of all teens have engaged in self-harming behaviors.
Is self-harming dangerous?
Self-harm is always serious. Self-harm has significant physical risks, like scarring and infection. It’s also possible to misjudge the depth of a cut, which can lead to blood loss and require stitches. This is especially dangerous because many teens cut in secret, and may resist seeking medical attention.
People often conflate cutting with suicidal behavior. However, cutting does not indicate that someone is suicidal, although some teens who engage in cutting are also suicidal. Cutting is generally regarded as a maladaptive coping mechanism, or a harmful way to handle overwhelming or difficult emotions. People who cut usually aren’t doing so to end their own lives—rather to try to manage their pain.
Is self-harming contagious?
The answer to this is complicated. Cutting is sometimes painted as a “trend”, which is dangerously minimizing. People are, however, influenced by their peers. Teens that are struggling with their emotions and looking for release may hear about cutting and try it. Peer influence alone will not make a healthy teen turn to cutting.
What should I do if I, or a friend, is self-harming?
Speak to a school counselor, a medical provider, or a trusted adult. You can also call one of the hotline numbers listed above to talk to someone confidentially. A mental health provider can help you come up with ways to redirect yourself when you feel the urge to self-harm. People may not necessarily understand, and can sometimes have strong reactions when you tell them that you are self-harming. This is why it’s so important to talk to a mental health professional.
A professional should understand that self-harm does not necessarily indicate that you are suicidal and need to be hospitalized. Therapy can help you get to the root of the emotions that are driving you to self-harm and substitute more effective coping mechanisms. A therapist may work with you to develop a “safety plan” or a list of things to do instead of self-harm when the urge arises. There is a specific type of therapy, called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, that is especially effective for teens who struggle with self-harm.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
24/7, Call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
En espanol 1-888-628-9454
Deaf and hard of hearing 1-800-799-4889
Crisis Text Line
24/7, text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor
Call 866-488-7386 24/7
Text “TREVOR” TO 1-202-304-1200
Monday through Friday, 3 pm-10pm ET, 12 pm-7 pm PT
24/7, call in the U.S 877-565-8860, in Canada 877-330-6366
Staffed by trans-identified trained volunteers
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.