Self-Harm Effects, Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Self-Harm

Learn About Self-Injury

Self-harm is defined as a deliberate act to harm oneself that isn’t a suicidal attempt. Most people who engage in self-harm do not have the desire to die, however in extreme cases, death may be the result of self-harm case gone wrong. Self-harm is also referred to as self-mutilation, cutting, burning, and self-injury. Cutting may be the most common form of self-injury, but different methods are also used. These methods may include burning oneself, drinking poison, picking at scabs or cuts, not allowing cuts to heal, hitting their head or body on pieces of furniture, and other methods.

Self-harm is a means by which an individual copes with emotional problems. Cutting can be a way of expressing strong emotions or handling deeply stressful life situations an individual does not know how to control. Feelings of emptiness, self-loathing, emotional pain, guilt, and anger can all lead to self-harm. Self-harm may be used by an individual to express feelings, distract from events, or release emotional pain. However, after self-injury, some individuals report feeling guilty and shameful. Most people who self-injure do wish to stop this behavior but do not know how.

Self-injury is a behavior that should be taken care of immediately. While it may not be a deliberate suicide attempt, it is an act to solve the emotional pain. The compassionate staff at Lakeland understands what you are going through and wants to help ease your pain.


Self-Injury Statistics

The statistics for self-injury may be somewhat skewed as many individuals who engage in this form of emotional coping may not admit to this behavior. Each year, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men engage in self-injury. 90% of individuals who self-injure begin during their adolescent or teen years. Over 50% of people who self-injure have suffered from sexual abuse. Each year in the US, about 2 million cases of self-injury are reported.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Self-Injury and Co-Occurring Disorders

Many individuals who engage in self-injury behavior also suffer from co-occurring mental illnesses. The most common mental illnesses that occur with self-harm include the following:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Trichotillomania
  • Dermatillomania
  • Trauma
  • PTSD

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Self-Injury

The reasons that a person engages in self-injury can vary wildly among people. It’s generally assumed that most individuals who engage in this type of self-injurious non-suicidal behavior are doing so for a variety of reasons. Most common causes of self-injury include the following:

Genetic: Many mental illnesses that have strong links to self-injury are considered to have a genetic component. These mental illnesses can be passed down through a family lineage to some members of the family.

Brain Chemistry: It’s been postulated that individuals who are born lacking certain neurotransmitters involved in emotional regulation may self-injure in order to feel emotions. Injury to the body results in a cascade of neurotransmitter release, which can allow these individuals the ability to feel the emotions they lack.

Environmental: Individuals who experienced traumatic abuse – most notably childhood sexual abuse or rape – as children are at a greater risk for self-injury. These individuals may not have been allowed the emotional outlet to process these attacks and have grown up feeling as though nothing in their life is under their control – except for self-injury.

Psychological: Individuals who self-injure may be struggling with mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder. Engaging in self-injury may allow these people the temporary release from unpleasant symptoms of mental illness.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Self-Injury

The type of self-injury can vary among individuals and cause a number of different symptoms. The most common symptoms of self-injury can include the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Binge drinking
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and friends
  • Preferring to spend time alone
  • Carrying implements of self-harm on them at all times
  • Ingesting poison or other inappropriate objects
  • Worsening of emotional well-being
  • Worsening of overall health
  • Withdrawing from once-pleasurable activities
  • Wearing long pants and long sleeves even in the summertime to cover injuries
  • Blood stains on clothing, towels, or bedding
  • Putting oneself in danger
  • Unexplained wounds
  • Patches of missing hair – trichotillomania
  • Unexplained scars
  • Frequent “accidents”
  • Severe burns or scald marks
  • Hitting oneself
  • Head banging
  • Sticking objects into skin
  • Broken bones
  • Increase in symptoms of mental illness
  • Feeling worthless, helpless, or hopeless


Effects of Self-Injury

The effects of self-injury can range from small injuries to death. It is vital for an individual struggling with self-injury to seek treatment in order to prevent further damage. Some of the effects of self-injury include:

  • Total social isolation
  • Scars that do not heal
  • Bald patches where hair has been ripped out
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Fatal injuries
  • Infections
  • Increased feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-image
  • Worsening of mental health conditions and overall well-being
  • Broken bones
  • Septicemia
  • Suicide or suicidal behaviors
  • Death

Marks of Quality Care
  • Arkansas Juvenile Officers Association
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB)
  • Missouri Hospital Association
  • Missouri Juvenile Justice Association
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval
  • Tricare

I felt the world crashing around me when I noticed cut and burn marks on my son's arms. I felt like a failure for not being able to protect him. Lakeland was able to help my son find more positive ways to cope with any negative emotions in his life. Each day is a struggle for us, but I know it will be worthwhile and easier with the staff at Lakeland Behavioral Health by our side.

– Donna B.

In response to the growing need for mental health services, we are expanding our older adult programming to include ages 40+