Self-harm behavior, formally known as nonsuicidal self-injury disorder, is the purposeful action of harming oneself without the intention of committing suicide. It is often practiced to relieve the mental anguish brought on by the deep underlying issues. There is no one specific cause that is responsible for self-harm behavior however there are many underlying risk factors that cause individuals to engage in self-harm. Many individuals who engage in self-harm usually have a history of abuse or trauma and are unable to cope with their feelings in a healthy manner and therefore turn to alternative mechanisms such as cutting in order to temporarily release their negative feelings. If you have been engaging in self-harm behavior, it is important to keep in mind that this is not your fault. Self-harm behavior, like any other mental health disorder, is a complicated disorder and is not a personal choice. Below are a handful of factors to consider when finding ways of treating your self-harm behaviors.

Mental health disorders associated with self-harm

Approximately one in five adults in the United States are diagnosed with a mental health disorder in a given year and most of these individuals do not seek treatment. Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder as well as anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Without professional treatment, many individuals turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as cutting and other forms of self-harm in order to relieve some of the emotional underlying tension. This physical expression of emotional distress is often triggered by feelings of guilt, anger, loneliness, numbness, anxiety and grief especially when these feelings are not addressed in a professional manner. Individuals with schizophrenia may often engage in self-harm behaviors because auditory hallucinations are telling them to do so, one of the distinctive characteristics of schizophrenia.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Dissociative identity disorder
  • Bipolar disorder

Social factors and traumas:

Self-harm behavior can result from emotional trauma and stress. Stress is a regular occurrence in lives of individuals however some people are more prone to stress than others and many individuals may not have a strong social support system or may lack the emotional capacity to deal with stressful situations. In these cases, forms of self-harm can be used to relieve the stress or even be used as a call for help or attention. The following are known social factors that can cause emotional distress in individuals potentially resulting in self-harm:

  • Difficult relationships with friends or partners
  • Childhood trauma such as divorce or adoption
  • Difficulties at school, such as not doing well academically
  • Difficulties at work
  • Bullying either at home, school or work
  • Financial strain
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Coping with cultural expectations such as an arranged marriage or with sexual orientation
  • Trouble with the law
  • Sexual, physical or emotional abuse, including domestic abuse and rape
  • Death of a close family member or friend
  • Unplanned pregnancy or a miscarriage

Physical consequences of self-harm behavior:

  • Nonsuicidal self-injury can often lead to emergency room visits due to severe injuries, and these injuries can cause permanent nerve damage for some. The following are known physical injuries associated with self-harm behavior:
  • Skin and flesh burns
  • Infections from open wounds
  • Bruises
  • Scars
  • Baldness of scalp (from hair pulling)
  • Nerve damage (from deep injuries)
  • Concussions (from head banging)
  • Broken bones
  • Disfigurement

Mental and emotional consequences for self-harm behavior:

  • Worsening feelings of shame, guilt, low self-esteem
  • Depression regarding the inability to stop self-injuring despite the consequences
  • Stress of providing many reasons for injuries
  • Social isolation
  • Stress of having to hide the self-abuse from others
  • Substance use and abuse to self-medicate
  • Failure to address reasons behind the self-injury
  • Long-standing problems cause decreased enjoyment in other areas of life
  • Anxiety that someone will discover the self-mutilation
  • Suicide
  • Broken relationships
  • Poor work or school performance
  • Development of an eating disorder

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