Self-Inflicted Injury Prevention, Children Ages 10 to 19 Years

What is a self-inflicted injury?

A self-inflicted injury occurs when someone purposely hurts themselves.

  • Self-inflicted injury is also called self-injury, self-abuse, self-mutilation, deliberate self-harm, parasuicidal behavior, and non-suicidal self-injury.
  • Self- inflicted injuries most often occur on the arms, legs and front of the body because they are easier to reach and hide under clothing. However, the injuries could affect any part of the body.

Who is most likely to engage in self-inflicted injury?

Most people who injure themselves are teenagers. People who injure themselves usually start this behavior in their young teens. Self-inflicted injury usually occurs numerous times, rather than just once.

How could someone injure themselves?

Any of the following methods could be used:

  • Biting
  • Bone breaking
  • Burning
  • Carving words or symbols into the skin
  • Cutting (making cuts or scratches on the skin with sharp objects such as knives, needles, razor blades, scissors, pins, fingernails, etc.)
  • Hair-pulling
  • Hitting or punching (with a hammer or other object)
  • Hitting his/her head (head banging)
  • Piercing the skin using sharp objects
  • Picking at skin or reopening wounds so they cannot heal
  • Pinching
  • Poisoning (or drinking harmful chemicals)
  • Taking an overdose of drugs

What medical problems can result from self-inflicted injury?

Children who injure themselves do not usually intend to cause lasting injury. However, self-inflicted injury may cause serious medical problems, including:

  • Life-threatening blood loss
  • Deep cuts needing stitches
  • Infections from wounds or dirty cutting objects
  • Increased feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem
  • Unintended suicide (Self-inflicted injury is usually not suicidal behavior; however, it may result in death.)
  • Higher risk of attempted suicide (Most people who injure themselves are not trying to die by suicide. However, the emotional problems and pain that lead to self-inflicted injury may lead to attempted suicide.)
  • Repeated self-inflicted injury (Self-inflicted injury can become a compulsive behavior.This means that the more a person does it, the more he/she feels the need to keep doing it.)

Why would someone purposely injure themselves?

Self-inflicted injury is usually a teen's effort to try to feel better, not to end his/her life. Teens may use self-inflicted injury as a way to cope with (or find relief from) emotional pain, strong feelings (such as anger, hurt, sadness, despair, shame, frustration, rejection, or isolation), intense pressure, or relationship problems.

Teens who injure themselves may be dealing with feelings that they cannot cope with, or hard situations they think cannot change. They may feel desperate for relief from these feelings. These teens sometimes have other mental health problems that add to their emotional pain. They may have experienced trauma, such as living through abuse, violence, or a disaster.

What are warning signs of self-inflicted injury?

Self-inflicted injury is often kept secret so it may be difficult to see warning signs. Warning signs of self-inflicted injury include:

  • Scars (from burns, cuts, etc.)
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, burns or other wounds
  • Bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Always covering arms and legs and wearing cold-weather clothes even in warm weather
  • Difficulty controlling his/her emotional state ( especially sadness, fear and anger)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Spending a lot of time alone

What should I do if my child has any of these warning signs?

  • Openly express your concern, support, and love.
  • Seek mental health services.
  • Call S.A.F.E. Alternative's Self-injury Resource Line: 1-800-DONTCUT(366.8288).
  • Encourage your child to talk to you, other trusted adults and friends.

What NYS laws related to the prevention of self-inflicted injuries are important for me to know?

Timothy's Law requires that health insurance providers provide comparable (similar) coverage for mental illnesses as they provide for other medical care. Timothy's Law ensures that adults and children with mental illness receive the same health care coverage benefits as those provided for physical ailments.

Only people covered by group health insurance or a school blanket health insurance policy are eligible for the mental health benefits required by Timothy's Law. Group health insurance is insurance that you obtain through an employer or through an association, such as a chamber of commerce. A school blanket health insurance policy covers students enrolled in a college or university who purchase their insurance through the school.

Where can I find more information about self-inflicted injury?