Learn About The Symptoms & Causes of Self-Harm & Self-Injury

Many individuals struggling with mental health disorders are often times dealing with self harm. Crestwyn offers treatment for self harm in a safe and healing environment.

Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm, which is also sometimes referred to as self-mutilation or self-injury, is characterized by an individual’s compulsion to inflict pain or injury on him or herself. While self-harm is not a mental health diagnosis, it might indicate the presence of a mental health condition. Self-harm can cause serious physical injuries or infections related to physical harm. Common ways in which an individual might partake in self-harm is through burning parts of the body, picking at wounds or skin, hair pulling, cutting, drinking poisonous substances, or performing actions that can cause broken bones.

For an observer, self-injury might look like a method to obtain attention, or it may appear to be an attempt at suicide. It is important to understand that self-harm is neither of these things; instead it is a misguided means of finding temporary relief from the emotional upset that a person might be experiencing. Often, individuals who engage in self-injury possess poor coping skills that are overwhelmed by the emotional pain and life problems that they are experiencing, and hurt themselves as a means to control their emotions. In some instances, self-harm becomes a reactive behavior in response to trauma. Needless to say, self-injury is dangerous for one’s health and has significant consequences. Therefore, immediate help should be provided to an individual who is suspected of committing self-injury.

This condition might be difficult to stop; however with professional help and support from friends and family, an individual can improve and recover from self-harm. There are evidence-based approaches to treating self-harm and the causes of this condition. With the appropriate support and treatment for self-harm, effective progress can be made for those who obtain comprehensive care.


Since many cases of self-harm and self-injury are done in private, there is no clear estimate on how many individuals are impacted. Most individuals go to great lengths to hide his or her condition. Based on research, roughly one in five adolescent females and one in seven adolescent males have attempted and committed self-injury once in their lives. Even though most people who engage in self-harm first do so during their teen years, nearly 40% of individuals harm themselves during adolescence will continue this behavior into adulthood.

Causes and Risk Factors for Self-Harm

The following are some of the risk factors that can increase the risk that an individual will engage in self-harm:

Genetic: Self-injury tends to co-occur with other mental illnesses, many of which are connected to genetics and family history. Heritable mental health disorders that can increase one’s odds of self-injury include bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and depressive disorders.

Environmental: Environmental factors might add to the development of self-harm. Commonly affected are those who have poor coping skills to emotional stress, negative experiences, and trauma. Often, these individuals seek relief by harming themselves. Stress from home, school, and/or work might lead to continuous feelings of being overwhelmed, which can add to the urge of injuring oneself. A history of trauma, physical abuse, and abandonment during childhood lead to greater risk of self-injury. In other instances, individuals view self-harm as a way to reduce emotional stress or painful memories.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Individuals with history of mental illness
  • Impulsiveness
  • Traumatic experiences and repetitive trauma
  • Being female (males are less likely to report this mental health disorder)
  • Low confidence and low self-esteem
  • Lack of emotional support system
  • Neglect from parents during childhood
  • Physical or sexual abuse during childhood

Signs and Symptoms of Self-Harm

Individuals with self-harm behaviors might choose to harm themselves in different ways. Depending on the level of harm each individual engages in, self-injury can lead to severe physical harm. Some of the common symptoms amongst those who engage in self-injury include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Unrealistic explanations of where injuries originate
  • Lack and loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities
  • Hiding bruises and injuries by wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, even during hot weather
  • Negative feelings, thoughts, and beliefs
  • Frequent absence from school, work, and other social gatherings
  • Bald spots and thinning hair due to pulling
  • Isolation from friends, family, and other preferred people

Physical symptoms:     

  • Scratches and scrapes on the skin
  • Bald spots or thinning hair
  • Broken bones or unusual sprains
  • Cuts and burns
  • Constant bruises that are not caused by anemia and other health conditions
  • Wounds that often do not heal (due to picking of wounds)
  • Scars

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Out-of-body experiences (which are also known as episodes of depersonalization)
  • Painful and disturbing memories
  • Inability to concentrate well
  • Feelings of derealization, or difficulty determining reality from non-reality
  • Having the desire to harm one’s self
  • Impulsive thoughts and actions, and the inability to control them
  • Negative thoughts that often escalate to severe negativity

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • A strong feeling of guilt or shame
  • Easily irritated and distracted
  • Emotional instability
  • Sudden and intense mood swings
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Detachment or lack of emotions
  • Severe depression
  • Feeling anxious

Effects of Self-Harm

If not provided with immediate help, those who struggle with self-injury can experience serious repercussions and can sometimes even suffer death. These consequences can include:

  • Body weakness and numbness
  • Infections in wounds, including potentially life-threatening infections such as MRSA
  • Nerve damage
  • Tissue damage
  • Organ failure
  • Broken bones that may or may not heal
  • Anemia
  • Internal bleeding
  • Death

In addition to physical harm, other consequences of self-harm can include the following:

  • Conflict in personal relationships
  • Lack of interest to socialize and interact
  • Illnesses that can be caused by infections from injuries
  • Drugs and alcohol use and abuse
  • Strong feeling of guilt and shame
  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Failure in academics or job loss
  • Low self confidence and self-esteem

Co-Occurring Disorders

Self-injurious incidents tend to be caused by and can co-occur with other mental disorders. Some of the conditions that can occur alongside of self-injury are:

  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD)

This was the best place I could have ever chosen to go get help at! Unlike other behavioral health places in the Memphis area, Crestwyn is a very nice facility staffed with the kindest and most helpful people ever!

– Former Patient