How Does Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Affect People?

Self-injury can have varied short- and long-term impacts on individuals, as well as their friends, partners, and families 1. In the short-term, many people report that they feel a sense of calm or relief right after they engage in self-injury. 2 However, some people also feel guilty or ashamed of this behavior and may worry that others will judge them if they found out about the self-injury. Understandably, this, can contribute to feelings of anxiety, shame, and isolation. Furthermore, such feelings can make it hard to reach out for help.

 

Over the long-term, people who engage in self-injury may report worsening depression or anxiety, physical consequences such as scarring, and difficulties in their close relationships. 3 45 Parents and caregivers, teachers, and mental health professionals often feel frightened or confused when they find out a young person is engaging in self-injury.6 7 Although self-injury is often associated with emotional and social strain, some studies show that the process of addressing, and healing from, self-injury can bring some relationships closer and enhance self-understanding, especially when the person feels well-supported. 8 9


The relationship between self-injury and suicidal behaviors is complex. While most acts of self-injury are not accompanied by suicidal thoughts, evidence suggests people who have self-injured are more likely to attempt suicide than those who have never self-injured. 10 Importantly, engaging in self-injury is associated with two important risk-factors for suicide: the experience of emotional distress, and the experience of inflicting pain and injury on oneself 11. The experience of inflicting pain can reduce the inhibition to suicide if someone is thinking about ending their life. In short, although self-injury is not a suicide attempt, the presence of self-injury may indicate someone is thinking about suicide or may do so in the future. As such, self-injury should be considered as an important risk-factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviors 12

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