Why Does Self-Harm Happen?

Self-harm is an unhealthy coping mechanism that is often associated with traumatic experiences, depression, or anxiety. A common misconception is that self-harm is used when considering or “practicing” suicide. This is not true. People who struggle with self-harm are not suicidal at all—for this reason, self-harm is clinically referred to as Non-Suicidal Self Injury or NSSI. According to the American Psychological Association, around “17% of adolescents have engaged in some form of NSSI”, making up the largest percentage in any age range. March is self-harm awareness month, so let’s dive into this widely misunderstood behavior, how to recognize it, and how to support a loved one who is struggling with self-harm.

Signs and Forms of Self-Harm

NSSI is defined as any intentionally self-inflicted injury that is done in response to emotional pain. It can take on many forms, including cutting (most popular), scratching, hitting, burning, or branding, pinching, inserting objects under the skin, piercing the skin, pulling out hair, or skin picking. The arms, legs, and the torso are typical areas for self-harm because they are easily accessible and easily concealed by clothing. If someone you know struggles with mental health, emotional distress, or has experienced trauma, they could be at risk for experiencing NSSI.

Signs to watch out for are:

Causes of Self-Harm

There are many reasons why someone would turn to self-harm as a way of coping with emotions. It is important to understand that those struggling with NSSI are not doing so to seek attention; they usually go to great lengths to hide their struggle. Some more common reasons for developing NSSI are:

NSSI is a complex condition that does not follow a fixed set of rules. Each individual who struggles with self-harm will have a different reason or experience, and sometimes they aren’t even sure of why or how it started.

Self-harm can cause several negative effects, including permanent scars, bleeding, infections, guilt or shame, and a declining sense of self-worth. People who struggle with self-harm can also become socially isolated from loved ones and friends, especially if it becomes difficult to hide their injuries or cover up their behaviors.

How to Support a Friend or Loved One  

Recovering from self-harm is possible, especially with a good support system. If you know someone who is struggling with NSSI, here are ways you can support their recovery:

Getting Help

Self-harm is a way to cope with negative emotions, but recovery is almost always possible. Usually, it takes professional counseling to get to the root cause of the behavior, heal from past trauma, and develop healthy coping mechanisms that can be used going forward. If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm in California or Nevada, reach out to Medens Health via our online portal or by calling (833) 624-5400. Our licensed staff is ready to help you!

If you are experiencing a Self-Harm Crisis, help is available 24/7 via chat, call, or text. If you are bleeding, dial 911.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.