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Understanding and Getting Help for Self-Harm

What is Self-Harm?   Nonsuicidal self-injury, or self-harm, is the act of hurting yourself on purpose, such as cutting or burning yourself.  It’s typically not meant as a suicide attempt; rather, this type of self-injury is a harmful way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration. 

Why do people Self-Harm?  There is no single or simple cause that leads someone to self-harm.  In general, self-injury may result from:

  • Poor coping skills:  Nonsuicidal self-injury is usually the result of an inability to cope in healthy ways with psychological pain.
  • Difficulty managing emotions: A person may have a hard time regulating, expressing or understanding emotions. 
  • Life Issues: Some people who self-harm were neglected, sexually, physically or emotionally abused, or experienced other traumatic events.  They may have grown up and still remain in an unstable family environment, or they may be people questioning their personal identity or sexuality.  

What should I do if I know someone is Self-Harming?  If you have a friend or loved one who is self-injuring, you may feel shocked or scared.  Take all talk of self-harm seriously, don’t ignore it or try to deal with it alone. Review our list of mental health providers to find an agency that may be a good fit for yours and your family's needs. 

  • Your Child:  Consult your pediatrician, therapist, school counselor, school psychologist, social worker, or other health care provider who can provide an initial evaluation or referral to a mental health provider.  Express your concern, but don’t yell at your child or make threats or accusations. 
  • Teenage Friend:  Suggest that your friend talks to parents, a teacher, a school counselor or another trusted adult.  Offer to go with your friend as a support. You can also use the SafeUT app to anonymously report a friend you may be concerned about.
  • Adult:  Gently express your concern and encourage the person to seek medical and mental health treatment.

When to get emergency help:  If you’ve injured yourself severely or believe your injury may be life-threatening, or if you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.  

For more information on Self-Harm, use the following links