Self-injury can be a way of expressing and coping with deep distress and emotional pain. It can seem frightening and leave people unsure how to respond. It is important to clearly distinguish self-injury from suicidal behavior; self-injury can be understood as a method of temporarily relieving intolerable emotional or psychological pain, and not as an attempt to end life. The most common form of self-injury is cutting (i.e. making cuts or scratches with a sharp object), but it can also take many other forms, including: burning, hitting, punching, head banging, piercing, pinching, biting, pulling hair, and interfering with wound healing.
Signs of self-injury can be difficult to detect, as students may hide self-injurious behaviors from others and cover physical evidence. The following symptoms may signify self-injury, but they may also be indicative of something else, such as relationship violence, or the result of an accident, so it is important to be open-minded when approaching a student.
- Scars, such as from burns or cuts
- Fresh cuts, scratches or other wounds, often in a pattern such as thin parallel lines, words, etc.
- Injuries to arms, legs, or torso, or less frequently other locations
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants even in hot weather
- Keeping sharp objects on hand
- Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps
- Make a observation about a specific behavior or concern and ask them about it
- If a student discloses they have self-injured, listen to them and attempt to understand their perspective
- Be supportive and maintain a nonjudgmental attitude
- Don’t tell the person to stop the self-harming behavior; this may make them feel worse about themselves and less likely to talk to you
- Ask if they have other coping skills that work for them
- Encourage them to seek counseling
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