Self mutilation



Self-harm is a sign of distress and problems with coping skills. People may self-harm when they feel intense anger or frustration. Some say it feels like tension release. Others may do it for a sense of control or to feel something other than numb.

Self-harm can cause shame. This shame can then create a new cycle of intense emotions and self-harm.

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Risk Factors

Self-harm is most common in teens and young adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Past trauma
  • Unstable home during childhood
  • Binge drinking or drug use
  • Having other mental health problems, such as depression



The type of harm can vary. Some examples are:

  • Cutting skin with a sharp object
  • Skin carving or burning
  • Self-punching or scratching
  • Needle sticking
  • Eye pressing
  • Finger, lips, or arm biting
  • Pulling out one's hair
  • Picking at one's skin

People who use self-harm may:

  • Have scars, often in the same place on the body
  • Wear long sleeves or pants to hide injuries
  • Claim to have frequent accidents
  • Have relationship problems
  • Have behavioral problems
  • Talk about feeling hopeless


People who self-harm often feel ashamed. Some may not want to reach out for help. A friend or relative may call for medical help.

A doctor may notice scars during an exam. They may ask questions about stress, emotions, and wellness. This will help the doctor assess the problem. The questions may also help to see if other mental health issues may be present. A mental health counselor may also help to make the diagnosis.



The goal of treatment is to find out what is leading a person to self-harm. This will help to make a treatment plan. Options are:


There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.