Self-injury or self-harm are behaviours intended to hurt oneself.

Self-injury or self-harm are behaviours intended to hurt oneself. Unlike suicidal behaviour, the intention is not to end one’s life, but to cause injury to one’s body. Unintended consequences of self-harm behaviours, however, can be serious physical health concerns (e.g. infection, blood loss) or suicide.

There are many forms of self-harm. One common form is cutting skin using razor blades, knives or other sharp objects. Other forms include burning skin, punching/slapping, head banging, hair pulling, and scratching wounds. Unexplained cuts, bruises, or other injuries may be a sign of self-harm behaviour. Wearing long-sleeved clothes to cover up areas of injury (even in hot weather) may be another sign of self-harm behaviour.

Self-injury can affect people from all walks of life, but is more commonly seen in teenagers and young adults. It is also more common in women. Self-injury may be a sign of difficulty coping with stressors, difficulty with self-esteem/confidence, and/or the presence of a mental illness.

What are the reasons for self-harm/self-injury?

There is no one reason that causes people to use self-harm behaviours. In fact, some people are unable to identify a reason for self-harm, only to say that they feel better after.

Below is a list of some of the common explanations for self-harm:

  • To reduce or block out mental pain by experiencing physical pain
  • As a way to counteract emotional numbness
  • As a means to cope with a stressful emotional situation
  • As a means of self-punishment

What should I do to get help?

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm behaviours, it is very important to see your family doctor or speak with a mental health professional available through the mental health and substance use centre in your community.


Resources for First Nations people

  • Self-harm: Information for parents and caregivers
    • Help
    • Recognize
    • Understand
  • Self-harm: Information for youth
    • Resource guide
    • Safer coping