Why Do People Self-Injure?

Why Do People Self-Injure?


Why Do People Self-Injure?


“In case you didn't know, dead people don't bleed. If you can bleed-see it, feel it-then you know you're alive. It's irrefutable, undeniable proof. Sometimes I just need a little reminder.” Amy Efaw


Self-injury is defined as intentional direct damage to one’s body without suicidal intent.  There is a distinction between individuals who self-injure in order to cope with overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and those attempting to end their lives.   Self-injury can include cutting, burning, scratching, hitting, banging, hair pulling, picking, and swallowing harmful items.  It does not include tattooing, piercing or indirect injury as a result of substance use or eating disorders.  


Self-injury is a major issue in Canada and particularly for Canadian youth.  15-17% of adolescents and young adults report a history of self-injury.  According to the most recent data available from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, self-harm related hospitalizations increased 110% for girls and and 35% for boys, from 2009-2014, with girls more likely to be hospitalized than boys. Self-injury can be associated with a variety of mental health issues including mood, anxiety, personality, psychotic, eating, and substance use disorders.


The reasons for self-injury are varied.  Most common is an effort to regulate or control difficult emotions.  A form of self-soothing, described as a release, and often used to reduce anxiety and stress.  Others self-injure to feel alive, to feel anything but numbness.  It can be an attempt to stop dissociative episodes.  Some use self-injury as a way to influence others or to punish themselves.  Others describe self-injuring in order to resist urges to end their lives.


While self-injury might provide momentary relief, it is temporary.  This brief period of relief is often followed by shame, guilt and the return of painful emotions.  Although not the same as suicide, self-injury can elevate to suicidal behaviours, especially when it is no longer perceived as a helpful coping mechanism.  


“Other times, I look at my scars and see something else: a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have had to live through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They're part of my history that'll always be there.”  Cheryl Rainfield









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