Self-injury or self-harm is when somebody damages or injures their body on purpose. Self-injury is a way of expressing deep emotional feelings or problems that build up inside.
Cutting the skin is probably the most common form of self-injury. The cuts are not usually deep, but in some cases medical attention is needed to clean, dress or stitch the wounds. The most common places on the body to cut are the wrists, upper arms, inner thighs and upper chest. Less common are the face, breasts, abdomen and genitals. Often people who cut themselves will use one or two methods, for example, knives, glass or razor blades. The person tends to have a certain area of the body that they prefer to cut, such as the arms.
Burning the skin (usually with cigarettes) is also common. People may also self-harm by scratching, hitting or punching, sometimes using an object. Other forms of self-injury include picking at the skin, pulling out hair, swallowing poisonous substances, taking an overdose of tablets or drugs or deliberately breaking bones.
Several other forms of behaviour can also be seen as types of self-injury. For example:
Self-harm is much more common among girls than boys, often starting in adolescence (between 13 and 18 years of age), although it can affect children from as young as 11 years old. Embarrassment, shame and fear of discovery often means that people keep self-injury a secret. Because of this, it is difficult to know how many people self-harm.
Some people self-harm only once or a few times, while others do it on a regular basis, sometimes throughout their lives.