Self-harm involves a person damaging their body by cutting, burning, scratching or practicing any other behavior that results in pain or injury. Different motivators can encourage people toward self-harm, such as feeling overwhelmed or numb. Though self-harm is not a mental health disorder, it is a common symptom of many psychological conditions. Self-harm statistics and facts show the widespread trend of self-harm throughout the United States.

Self-Injury Prevalence

Even though self-harm has been studied extensively for over a decade, findings are never entirely accurate because of the stigma and shame that still surrounds self-injury. The actual rates are likely quite higher than those currently reported.

One analysis of self-injury across more than 40 countries found that:

  • About 17% of all people will self-harm during their lifetime
  • The average age of the first incident of self-harm is 13
  • 45% of people use cutting as their method of self-injury
  • About 50% of people seek help for their self-harm but only from friends instead of professionals

Not only is self-harm prevalent, but rates are increasing. According to emergency room trends, there’s been a 50% increase in reported self-injury among young females since 2009.

Infographic with statistics about the prevalence of self-harm

Who Self-Harms?

While anyone can practice self-harm, rates tend to differ among certain populations:

  • Adults. Aside from very young children, adults are the least likely group of people to follow through with self-injury. Only about 5% of adults have self-injured in their lifetime.
  • Teens. Adolescents have the highest rate of self-injurious behaviors, with about 17% admitting to self-injury at least once in their life.
  • College Students. Studies find that about 15% of college students report engaging in self-harm.
  • Women vs. Men. While women are more likely to self-harm, males may represent at least 35% of total self-injury cases. Men are more likely to underreport self-injury and have other people hurt them than women.
  • Sexual Minorities. Gay and bisexual people are at a high risk of self-injury. Nearly half of all bisexual females engage in self-injury.

Age of Onset

As mentioned, the average age of onset for self-injury is 13. This age seems to align with new stressors and expectations at school and home as the child enters their teenage years. Age 13 represents a time of great physical, social and mental change and development. This time is also linked to the emergence of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, which may further trigger a desire to self-harm.

Self-Harm Risk Factors

There is not just one factor that contributes to self-harm. Instead, there are a variety of biological and environmental issues known to cause self-harm, including:

  • Having friends or family members who self-injure
  • Experiencing stressful life situations like traumatic events, family instability and sexual identity uncertainty
  • Living in social isolation
  • Mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety and personality disorders
  • Drug and alcohol use or addiction

The more of these factors a person has, the higher their risk of self-harm.

Infographic that lists risk factors of self-harm

Diagnosing Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Disorder (NSSID)

Nonsuicidal self-injury is not a diagnosable mental health condition: yet. Currently, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists nonsuicidal self-injury as one of the “Conditions for Further Study” in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This designation implies the group may include the condition in future versions of the text.

Nonsuicidal self-injury involves symptoms like:

  • Engaging in self-harm on five or more days over the last year
  • Self-injuring to find relief from an unwanted feeling, solve a relationship conflict or create a desired feeling
  • Self-harm involves unwanted feeling like depression, anxiety or anger, an intense focus on completing the behavior and frequent thoughts of self-injury

Since self-injury is not currently an official mental health diagnosis, a medical or mental health professional will ask the person questions about the behavior and the purpose of the behavior to assess the situation.

Rates of Self-Harm and Co-Occurring Conditions

Self-harm often co-occurs with mental health disorders. Historically, self-harm was thought to be directly connected to borderline personality disorder. Now, it’s understood that the behavior can be associated with many conditions, like:

One study found that of people who self-injure:

  • 20% have personality disorders
  • 13.5% have adjustment disorders
  • 11% have mood disorders, like depression or bipolar disorder

Addition research shows that about 55% of people who self-harm have eating disorders.

Although the conditions may overlap, nonsuicidal self-injury is often not linked to:

self harm co-occurring disorders infographic

Self-Harm and Suicide

Although an act of self-harm is different from a suicide attempt, there is a strong association between self-injury and suicide attempts. It seems that as incidents of self-harm increase, the likelihood of suicide attempts also increase.

People who engaged in 20 or more self-harm behaviors are about 3.5 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to those who have fewer self-injury actions.

Self-Harm Prognosis

Establishing a self-harm prognosis is based on:

  • Frequency of self-harm
  • Intensity of self-harm
  • Duration of self-harm
  • Presence of other mental health symptoms or conditions
  • Available professional or social support

The APA reports in the DSM-5 that self-injury tends to peak by the time a person is 29, so the prognosis improves as age increases.

Statistics on Self-Harm Treatment

Since self-harm is not a mental health condition of its own, tracking treatment statistics is challenging. What experts do know is that treatment must focus on the factors that trigger self-harm, as well as the self-harm itself.

For example, if your self-harm is connected to substance use, getting help from The Recovery Village could reduce self-harm as you find recovery from alcohol and other drugs. Call today to speak to a representative about available treatment options for self-harm and substance use disorders.

    

American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013.

DeAngelis, Tori. “Who Self-Injures?” American Psychological Association, July/ August 2015. Accessed April 14, 2019.

Ghimire, S., Devkota, S., Budhathoki R., Sapkota, N., Thakur, A. “Psychiatric Comorbidities in Patients with Deliberate Self-Harm in a Tertiary Care Center.” Journal of the Nepal Medical Association, Jan – March 2014. Accessed April 14, 2019.

Gillies, D., Christou, M.A., Dixon, A.C., Featherston, O.J., Rapti, I., Garcia-Anguita, A., Villasis-Keever, M., Reebye, P., Christou, E., Al Kabir, N., Christou, P.A. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Self-Harm in Adolescents: Meta-Analyses of Community-Based Studies 1990-2015.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, August 21, 2018. Accessed April 14, 2019.

Mayo Clinic. “Self-Injury/Cutting.” December 7, 2018. Accessed April 14, 2019.

Mercado, Melissa C., Holland, Kristin, Leemis, Ruth W. “Trends in Emergency Department Visits for Nonfatal Self-inflicted Injuries Among Youth Aged 10 to 24 Years in the United States, 2001-2015.” JAMA Network, November 21, 2017. Accessed April 14, 2019.

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