About Self-Harming Behaviors

Young people sometimes inflict pain and cause physical harm to their bodies in an attempt to cope with stressors, abuse or traumas, to relieve the symptoms of mental illness, or even in response to a feeling of numbness or emptiness.  

Self-harm (sometimes called "non-suicidal self-injury," "self-injury," or “cutting”) can take many forms, from cutting, burning or scalding one’s skin to hair pulling or banging one’s head. The physical pain that an individual experiences through these actions can temporarily help them to forget or physically express the emotional pain that they are experiencing.

Knowing when a student is harming him/herself can be challenging, since one usually engages in these behaviors in private, and may be reluctant or ashamed to admit them. But here are two of the more obvious signs that self-harming behaviors may be taking place:

  • Covering up with long sleeves and long pants at all times, even during gym class, sports or hot weather
  • Numerous and/or suspicious cuts, bruises scars or burns

Learn more about identifying and addressing self-harming behaviors in this article from the journal Psychiatry, and/or by visiting the website of the Cornell University Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, one of the nation’s leading academic research programs in the field.  Although they are not always connected, self-harming behaviors can be accompanied by suicidal thoughts. Learn about the risk factors of suicide and how you can intervene here.