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Nonsuicidal Self-Injury: What to Know and Look For

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A teenage girl in your life might be struggling with self-injury or self-harm behavior and not getting the support she needs. Self-injury affects nearly 1 in 4 teenage girls in the United States, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health.

And it’s not just girls. As described in the MHFA curriculum, nonsuicidal self-injury – also known as self-harm, self-mutilation, cutting and parasuicide – is relatively common in young adults. A survey of U.S. college students found that 15.3% had engaged in nonsuicidal self-injury at some time in their lives, with no significant difference in rates between males and females.

This is why it’s crucial that you understand what it is, what signs and symptoms to look for and how you can help with Mental Health First Aid.

Nonsuicidal self-injury does not have a suicidal intention. It’s a coping mechanism for distress, and people who engage in this behavior do so for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Escape from unbearable anguish
  2. Change the behavior of others
  3. Escape from a situation
  4. Express desperation
  5. “Get back at” other people or make them feel guilty
  6. Relieve tension
  7. Seek attention or help

Types of nonsuicidal self-injury include:

  1. Cutting, scratching, or pinching skin enough to cause bleeding or a mark that remains on the skin
  2. Banging or punching objects to the point of bruising or bleeding
  3. Ripping and tearing skin
  4. Carving words or patterns into skin
  5. Interfering with the healing of wounds
  6. Burning skin with cigarettes, matches or hot water
  7. Pulling out large amounts of hair
  8. Deliberately overdosing on medications when this is not meant as a suicide attempt

Nonsuicidal self-injury is often a symptom of mental illness or serious psychological distress, so if you suspect that someone you care about is deliberately self-injuring, it is important to address it and provide support. You can learn how to do this appropriately and where to get additional professional help by taking a Mental Health First Aid course.

Mental Health First Aid teaches people how to identify, understand and respond to mental health and substance use challenges, including nonsuicidal self-injury. Take a course today and learn how to use the ALGEE Action Plan to help someone around you in need.