Fast Facts: Self-Injury

Self-injury is the act of hurting one’s self without intending to die. Self-injurious behaviors include hitting, scratching, cutting, biting, burning, ingesting foreign substances, hair pulling and re-opening wounds.  People self-harm as a way of coping with intense or complex emotions when they are unable to adequately (or appropriately) adjust to these feelings.[1]


  • HeartSelf-injury is more common amongst women: three times as many ninth-grade female students report self-harming behaviors compared to male students,[2]
  • Self-injury behaviors increase with age.
  • One in twelve children ages 8 to 12 years old attempted self-injury, and about fifteen percent of all teenagers admit to some type of self-harm.[3]
  • More than one-third of adolescents engaged in at least one episode of self-harm during in the past year, says a recent study.[4]
  • Inpatient admissions for young people who have injured themselves have increased 68% over the past ten years.[5]
  • By adulthood, prevalence of these behaviors diminish, although 1-4% of adults still use self-injury as a coping mechanism.[6]


Misconceptions and stigma about self-harming behaviors make it challenging for sufferers to seek help and find alternatives to this self-destructive coping mechanism. Self-harm is shrouded in guilt and shame, thus remaining a mystery to all involved. Children and young people self-injure because they are in pain and don’t know how to cope, parents struggle with profound guilt and concern, and teachers don’t know what to say, even if they see the signs. Making matters worse, the online resources that young people readily access are often as harmful as they are helpful.

This lack of communication breeds stigma and misunderstanding. The following points are from a study conducted in the United Kingdom:

  • – Embarrassed and ashamed, one-third of parents reveal that they would not ask for help[7]
  • – Feeling helpless and unprepared, four out of five teachers express the desire for advice and materials they can share with students[8]
  • – More than sixty percent of general practitioners are unsure how to address the issue of self-harm with a patient[9]
  • – Eight out of ten young people don’t know where to turn with questions and concerns[10]

More than half of young people believe self-injurious behaviors are increasing because stigma inhibits people who need support, and only ten percent feel comfortable seeking advice from doctors, parents or teachers. One out of every two young people identify the internet as a resource they are comfortable accessing for guidance, but there is risk in relying on that venue. The anonymity of the on-line searches allows for a wide variety of responses, including:

  • – Bullying – ridiculing and demeaning young people who self-harm
  • – Support – compassionately listening to and supporting young people who self-harm
  • – Promotion of Positive and Negative Behaviors – responses ranging from sympathy and encouragement to cruelty and incitement of self-harming behavior

Risk Factors

  • – Age- Self-injurious behavior usually begins in adolescence and escalates in young adulthood
  • – Substance Abuse – Like self-injury, drug and alcohol abuse are destructive coping methods that temporarily ease internal pain
  • – Eating Disorders – Like self-injury, eating disorders are destructive coping methods that temporarily ease internal pain
  • – History of Abuse – Many people who self-harm have a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
  • – History of Psychological Treatment – Self-harmers often seek therapy in an attempt to deal with emotional difficulties

People who self-harm often describe feeling profound stress and a lack of control, and responses such as shock, disgust and rejection are stigmatizing, and only exacerbate those feelings. Challenging stigma by offering empathy and support will encourage people who self-harm to find the care and support they need.


[1] The Self Injury Foundation, Accessed January 2015

[2] Barrocas, A. L., Hankin, B. L., Young, J. F., & Abela, J. R. Z. (2012). Rates of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in Youth: Age, Sex, and Behavioral Methods in a Community Sample. Pediatrics, 130(1), 39–45. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2094

[3] Kerr, P., Muehlenkamp, J., & Turner J. Nonsuicidal Self-Injury: A Review of Current Research for Family Medicine and Primary Care Physicians. J Am Board Fam Med March-April 2010 23:240-259; doi:10.3122/jabfm.2010.02.090110

[4] Zetterqvist M, Lundh LG, Dahlström O, Svedin CG. Prevalence and function of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in a community sample of adolescents, using suggested DSM-5 criteria for a potential NSSI disorder.J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2013 Jul;41(5):759-73.

[5] Kerr, P., Muehlenkamp, J., & Turner J. Nonsuicidal Self-Injury: A Review of Current Research for Family Medicine and Primary Care Physicians. J Am Board Fam Med March-April 2010 23:240-259; doi:10.3122/jabfm.2010.02.090110

[6] IBID

[7] Cello Group & Young Minds, Talking Taboos: Talking Self-harm. London.

[8] IBID

[9] IBID

[10] IBID

Spotlight Calendar

Each month B Stigma-Free will spotlight a different area for attention. Blog articles, fact sheets and social media emphasis will call attention to the issue of stigma and the identified topic. Do you have suggestions for us to include? Tell us your ideas here.


Future Spotlight Topics:

April 2015 – Sexual Assault

May 2015 – Food Restrictions

June 2015 – Alzheimer’s Disease

July 2015 – Criminal Records

August 2015 – Skin Conditions

September 2015 – Deafness

October 2015 – Dwarfism

November 2015 – PTSD

December 2015 – Religion

January 2016 – Socio-Economic Status

February 2016 – Eating Disorders

March 2016 – Learning Disabilities

April 2016 – Substance Abuse

May 2016 – Older People

September 2016 – Albinism