Also referred to as self-harm and self-mutilation, self-injury is more common than most people realize — especially among those with mental health difficulties or substance use disorders. Defined as the deliberate damage of one’s body without the intention of suicide, the dangers of self-injury are often shrouded in stigma. Sadly, this prevents many people who self-injure from getting the help they need.
Silence isn’t an option when lives are at stake. Raising awareness about self-injury is the first step toward helping those struggling find the help they need. In honor of Self-Injury Awareness Day and the countless lives that have been affected by self-harm, The Recovery Village wants to help clarify some of the most common stereotypes surrounding self-injury.
Myth: Self-Injury Is Rare
Fact: With such a stigma against self-injury, many people who self-harm believe that they’re alone in their struggle. Unfortunately, the problem is more common than you might think. It’s difficult to accurately determine the number of people who self-injure, because many never report it. However, studies suggest that about 5 percent of people have self-injured by the time they reach adulthood. Self-injury is most common in adolescence, with an international meta-analysis of 52 studies suggesting that about 17 percent of adolescents engage in self-injury at least once.
While it’s certainly heartbreaking that so many people self-injure, the prevalence of self-harm means there are a number of free and confidential resources that can help anyone struggling.
Useful self-injury resources for you or someone you love include:
- S.A.F.E. Alternatives: Nationally recognized as a treatment approach, professional network and educational resource, this organization is committed to helping people work through and end self-injurious behavior. You can find referrals for treatment on the S.A.F.E. Alternatives website, or by calling 800-366-8288.
- Self-Injury Outreach and Support: This non-profit outreach initiative provides resources and information about self-harm to those who self-injure as well as those who have recovered. More information can be found on their website.
- The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults: By researching self-injury, this program helps provide useful resources and tools to those struggling with self-injury. Find resources and educational information here.
If you or someone you love has a life-threatening self-injury, call 911 immediately.
Myth: People Who Self-Injure Want to Die
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, self-injury is different than suicidal behavior. When someone attempts suicide, their goal is to end their emotional and physical pain by ending their life. In the case of self-injury, the goal is to find an outlet for suffering. While both groups of people are unhappy, the method of alleviating that unhappiness is different. According to sociologist Patricia Adler, self-injury is actually an anti-suicidal gesture “because it’s a way of trying to feel better, rather than [ending one’s life].”
Self-injury isn’t a stepping stone to suicide. Just because a person self-injures doesn’t mean that they will eventually try to commit suicide. However, self-injury certainly suggests that there are significant underlying mental health issues or distress. This alone can increase risk of suicide in those who self-injure. This is just one of the many reasons to seek treatment for self-injury sooner rather than later.
Myth: Self-Injury Only Involves Cutting Yourself
Fact: Because cutting is the most well-known and visible form of self-injury, many people don’t realize that they engage in self-injury. But self-harm can take many more forms.
Some of the most common methods of self-injury include:
- Skin picking
- Sticking objects into the skin
- Intentionally preventing wounds from healing
- Swallowing poisonous substances or inappropriate objects
Self-injury can also include hurting yourself or putting yourself in danger in other ways, including reckless driving, binge drinking, drug use and unsafe sex.
Myth: If a Self-Imposed Injury Isn’t Life Threatening, It’s Not Serious
Clothing can hide physical injuries, and suffering can be convincingly covered up by an air of calm. But when someone is self-injuring, they’re fighting an intense, inner battle. Just because the wounds they’re inflicting don’t warrant a trip to the emergency room doesn’t mean that they aren’t serious. The severity of a person’s physical wounds has little to do with how much they may be suffering emotionally.
Much like a drug or alcohol addiction, self-injury is an attempt to escape from unwelcome thoughts, feelings, pressures or circumstances. Both of these behaviors are dangerous and in many cases, present simultaneously. According to the Mayo Clinic, many people practice self-harm under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In general, people who regularly use drugs and alcohol have a higher risk of self-harm.
At The Recovery Village, we know firsthand how dangerous the intersection between self-injury and substance use disorder can be. But we also know that there’s life at the end of the tunnel. If you or a loved one is struggling with self-injury and addiction, we’re here to help.