What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is when a person intentionally hurts themselves. Generally, people who self-harm do not intend for their actions to kill them. They may act in this way for a wide variety of reasons, such as to help them cope emotionally with distressing thoughts or feelings or to communicate to others non-verbally that they are in distress and need support.

People self-harm in many different ways, including:

  • Cutting or scratching to break skin
  • Burning themselves with objects such as lit cigarettes, heated sharp objects, or chemicals
  • Physical trauma, such as hitting themselves with an object or hitting objects in ways that cause harm to themselves (for example, punching a wall)

These forms of self-harm can leave different kinds of marks on the body, such as bruises, burns, and scars. A person may try to cover these marks up with long-sleeve clothing, even in hot weather, and may explain the presence of any visible marks as the results of accidents. New marks may appear with some degree of frequency.

Certain factors increase a person’s likelihood of developing self-harming behaviors. Some of these factors include:

  • Abuse or traumatic childhood experiences
  • Age (self-harm most often begins between the ages of 12 and 14, potentially continuing for many years)
  • Being non-cisgender (people who identify with a gender other than the sex assigned to them at birth face a higher likelihood of facing bullying, abuse, and trauma)
  • Being non-heterosexual (people belonging to sexual minority groups self-harm at a higher-than-average rate due to an increased likelihood of abuse and trauma)
  • Social isolation

Self-harm can lead to potentially serious and permanent medical complications, including infection, nerve damage, scarring, severe injury, and death. It can also negatively impact social relationships, feed into a negative self-image, and increase a person’s risk of suicide, particularly if their self-harming behaviors become worse over time.

If you or someone you know engages in self-harm, it can help to have someone to talk to about what you’re thinking or feeling in a non-judgmental setting. Flushing Hospital Medical Center’s Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic provides individual psychotherapy services to people of all ages who are experiencing mental health problems. You can reach the clinic to schedule an appointment by calling (718) 670-5562. Additionally, you can dial 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

If a medical emergency occurs due to self-harm, please dial 911 immediately.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.