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Self-Injurious behaviour is defined as deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one’s body.

Self-injury includes:
1.    cutting
2.    scratching
3.    picking scabs or interfering with wound healing
4.    burning
5.    punching self or objects
6.    infecting oneself
7.    inserting objects in body openings
8.    bruising or breaking bones
9.    some forms of hair pulling
10.    other various forms of bodily harm

The behaviours, which pose serious risks, may be symptoms of a mental health problem that can be treated.

Incidence and onset
It is estimated that self-injurers represent nearly one percent of the population, with a higher proportion of females than males. The typical onset of self-harming acts is at puberty. The behaviors often last for five to ten years but can persist much longer without appropriate treatment.

Behaviour patterns
Many who self-harm used multiple methods. Cutting/scratching arms or legs is the most common practice. Self-injurers may attempt to conceal the resultant scarring with clothing, and if discovered, often make excuses as to how an injury happened. The most common excuse is “The cat scratched me.”

Reason for behaviours
Self-injurers commonly report that they feel empty inside, over or under stimulated, unable to express their feelings, lonely, not understood by others and fearful of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities. Self injury is their way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings and is generally not a suicide attempt. But relief is temporary, and a self-destructive cycle often develops without proper treatment.

If someone displays the signs and symptoms of self-injury, a mental health professional with self-injury expertise should be consulted. An evaluation or assessment is the first step, followed by a recommended course of treatment to prevent this self-destructive cycle from continuing.

Acknowledgement: Excerpts from Self-Abuse Finally Ends (SAFE) web site and “About Self-Injury” Authors: Karen Conterio and Wendy Lader, Ph.D.

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