Causes & Effects of Self-Injury

When a person causes physical injury to him or herself as a means of coping, it is known as self-harm. Often indicating that an individual is struggling with a mental health condition, self-harm can result in a number of effects that can have lasting consequences for the sufferer if untreated. Though frequently misinterpreted as a means of garnering attention or that the individual is wanting to end his or her own life, self-harm is a serious symptom of mental illness and requires treatment in order to eradicate these behaviors to reduce harmful aftereffects.

Common ways in which a person self-injures are cutting, burning, pinching, tearing skin, not allowing wounds to heal, biting, pulling out one’s own hair, punching oneself, hitting his or her person with a blunt object, or deliberately running into something. Other less common ways that individuals self-harm are by intentionally breaking bones or consuming toxic substances. These actions are done as a means of achieving control over emotional pain or, as some self-injurers report, providing relief from the tension that comes with this pain. Their actions frequently followed by intense feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse, those who are struggling with self-injury often find themselves in a vicious cycle of inflicting pain, feeling shameful, experiencing anxiety, and self-harming again. Treatment for these behaviors is available and can be of great help in putting an end to this self-destructive pattern of personal abuse.

24-hour patient services help line: (520) 214-0211 Email Us

Statistics

Research has found that 1 in 7 males and 1 in 5 females engage in self-harming behaviors. However, because those who self-injure try to conceal these behaviors, it is difficult to conclude an exact number of how many people inflict harm on themselves.

Causes and Risk Factors for Self-Harm

Experts have concluded that the following causes and risk factors are believed to play a role in leading an individual to self-harm:

Genetic: Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are known to be heritable. Furthermore, for some mental illnesses, self-injury is an unfortunate coping mechanism for dealing with unpleasant symptoms of a mental disorder. For those with a family history of mental illnesses in which one’s mood is not regulated or responses to anxiety-provoking stimuli result in distress, self-harming behaviors can be common.

Physical: The chemical imbalances that occur in the brains of those with a mental health condition can often lead to inappropriate methods of coping, such as self-harm, due to one’s inability to regulate emotions and mood effectively.

Environmental: Environmental contributors are believed to be extremely influential in identifying those at risk for self-mutilation. Chaotic home, school, or work environments can sometimes lead a person down the road to self-injury. Furthermore, individuals who have been victims of assault, abuse, or neglect are at an increased risk of self-harm as trauma can challenge a person’s ability to cope and result in harming one’s self as a means of dealing with personal anguish.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a diagnosis of depression
  • Having an additional mental illness
  • Family history of mental health conditions
  • Lack of appropriate coping skills
  • Exposure to trauma or experiencing trauma
  • Dysregulated emotions or mood
  • Poor impulse control
  • Experiencing the loss of a loved one
  • Lack of a support system
  • Turmoil regarding one’s sexuality

Signs and Symptoms of Self-Harm

Because people self-injure using different methods, the signs and symptoms present can vary depending on the individual. Additionally, the length of time that a person has been self-mutilating can potentially exacerbate the signs that someone is causing harm to him or herself. It is key to take note of the following when identifying that someone is purposely injuring him or herself:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Dismissing injuries as accidents
  • Decreased interest and involvement in activities once enjoyed
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Wearing clothing inappropriate for weather conditions so as to hide injuries

Physical symptoms:

  • Cuts
  • Burns
  • Scratches
  • Bruises
  • Scrapes
  • Unexplainable broken bones
  • Patches of missing hair

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Dissociating from the world around oneself
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Inability to retain focus or concentrate
  • Overwhelming thoughts of wanting to self-mutilate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Guilty feelings
  • Loneliness
  • Defeatist attitude
  • Feelings of worthlessness / helplessness / hopelessness
  • Increased anxiety when one is not able to self-harm
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Self-Harm

Unfortunately, self-harm can render a number of negative effects for a person if an he or she goes without treatment for this destructive behavior. Some of the damaging physical consequences can include:

  • Scars or permanent tissue damage
  • Infection
  • Numbness or weakness in areas of the body where injury occurred
  • Severe bleeding that requires medical intervention
  • Anemia
  • Improper healing of broken bones
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Accidental death

Moreover, there are several other effects that could produce negative long-term outcomes relating to an individual’s well-being and interactions with friends and loved ones. Examples of these effects are:

  • Increasing conflict with friends and loved ones
  • Decrease in quantity and quality of interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Persistent and invasive thoughts about self-mutilation
  • Abusing substances

Co-Occurring Disorders

When a person self-injures it is often symptomatic of a mental illness. Listed are the mental health conditions of which self-harm may be a symptom:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
24-hour patient services help line: (520) 214-0211 Email Us