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 Disability Information - Self-Injury or Self-Injurious Behavior


General Information

National Resources & Websites

Articles Related to this Disability


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 General Information

Self-injury is the act of deliberately destroying body tissue, at times to change a way of feeling. Self-injury is seen differently by groups and cultures within society. This appears to have become more popular lately, especially in adolescents. The causes and severity of self-injury can vary.


Some forms may include: carving, scratching, branding, marking, picking, and pulling skin and hair, burning/abrasions, cutting, biting, head banging, bruising, hitting, tattooing, excessive body piercing

Some adolescents may self-mutilate to take risks, rebel, reject their parents' values, state their individuality or merely be accepted. Others, however, may injure themselves out of desperation or anger to seek attention, to show their hopelessness and worthlessness, or because they have suicidal thoughts. These children may suffer from serious psychiatric problems such as depression, psychosis, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar Disorder. Additionally, some adolescents who engage in self-injury may develop Borderline Personality Disorder as adults. Some young children may resort to self-injurious acts from time to time but often grow out of it. Children with mental retardation and/or autism may also show these behaviors which may persist into adulthood. Children who have been abused or abandoned may self-mutilate.

Why do adolescents self-injure?
Adolescents who have difficulty talking about their feelings may show their emotional tension, physical discomfort, pain and low self-esteem with self-injurious behaviors. Although they may feel like the "steam" in the "pressure cooker" has been released following the act of hurting themselves, teenagers may instead feel hurt, anger, fear and hate. The effects of peer pressure and contagion can also influence adolescents to injure themselves. Even though fads come and go, most of the wounds on the adolescents' skin will be permanent. Occasionally, teenagers may hide their scars, burns and bruises due to feeling embarrassed, rejected or criticized about their deformities.

What can parents and teenagers do about self-injury?
Parents are encouraged to talk with their children about respecting and valuing their bodies. Parents should also serve as role models for their teenagers by not engaging in acts of self-harm. Some helpful ways for adolescents to avoid hurting themselves include learning to:

accept reality and find ways to make the present moment more tolerable.

identify feelings and talk them out rather than acting on them.

distract themselves from feelings of self-harm (for example, counting to ten, waiting 15 minutes, saying "NO!" or "STOP!," practicing breathing exercises, journaling, drawing, thinking about positive images, using ice and rubber bands, etc.)

stop, think, and evaluate the pros and cons of self-injury.

soothe themselves in a positive, non-injurious, way.

practice positive stress management.

develop better social skills.

Evaluation by a mental health professional may assist in identifying and treating the underlying causes of self-injury. Feelings of wanting to die or kill themselves are reasons for adolescents to seek professional care emergently. A child and adolescent psychiatrist can also diagnose and treat the serious psychiatric disorders that may accompany self-injurious behavior.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) represents over 6900 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry.  The Facts for Families series is developed and distributed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Facts sheets may be reproduced for personal or educational use without written permission, but cannot be included in material presented for sale.


As related to mental retardation or autism:

Self-injurious behavior (SIB), displayed by individuals with autism and mental retardation, involves the occurrence of behavior that results in physical injury to one’s own body. Common forms of SIB include, but are not limited to head-hitting, head-banging, and hand-biting. In the most severe cases, SIB can result in retinal detachment, blindness, broken bones, bleeding, or death. SIB is displayed by 10% to 15% of individuals with autism and mental retardation. These estimates are higher among individuals living in institutions and among those with greater cognitive impairments. SIB is also associated with certain genetic disorders, such as Lesch-Nyhan and Rett Syndromes.  Individuals may engage in SIB for a variety reasons. In some cases, SIB may occur because it results in favorable outcomes, such as attention from caregivers or the termination of academic or instructional demands. SIB may also be biologically based. For example, some research has suggested that SIB may result in the release of chemicals in the brain that produce pleasurable effects. Although there is considerable evidence to support of all of these explanations, current thought indicates that SIB is a highly complex, heterogeneous phenomenon that is often attributable to a combination of factors.  Visit for more info.

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 National Resources & Websites


Self-injury Support Group - This group meets on the 1st & 3rd Friday of every month in Morris County, New Jersey. More information, articles, and info about the group, it can all be found at


Blood Red - Includes information such as alternatives to self-injury, talking to someone about it, why someone would cut, along with information on overcoming self-injury, etc.


National Youth Crisis Toll Free Hotline: 1-800-HIT-HOME
Safe Alternatives Toll Free Hotline: 1-800-DONT-CUT  Safe Alternatives is also an inpatient program specifically for self-injurers.  This program is located at McNeal Hospital in Chicago, IL.


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 Articles Related to this Disability

I Cut Myself to Relieve My Pain - This first-person account by a high-school student chronicles how bad parenting and emotional isolation conspired to lead a happy girl into a spiral of cutting and physical risk tasking. The story ends on an uplifting note as the author reports how the intervention of an empathetic and astute counselor helped her to learn to manage her problems and overcome her feelings of worthlessness.


Student Self-Harm: Silent School Crisis - Experts say that self-mutilating behavior is becoming more prevalent among teenagers, forcing administrators, teachers, and other school staff members to confront the disturbing issue.


Cutting - It can be hard to understand, but people who cut themselves sometimes do it because it actually makes them feel better. They are overflowing with emotions - like sadness, depression, or anger - that they have trouble expressing.

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