Self-harm Myths and Facts

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — March 4, 2020 — 3 min read
Cutting. Scratching. Burning. There are a number of ways an individual may self-harm, or damage their bodies physically in a way that causes pain or injury.
And it’s more common than you might think. In fact, nearly 17% of all people will self-harm sometime during their lives.
March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, to help bring attention to self-injury behaviors and get rid of some of the confusions about what self-harm is, identify the signs to watch for, and offer ways to help someone who you suspect might be engaging in self-harming activities.

Myths and facts

While social media, television, and movies can help us learn more about human behavior, sometimes these depictions aren’t always accurate. That’s true of our understanding of self-harm as well. To erase the stigma surrounding self-harm behavior, it’s important to know more about it.
Here are some of the more common myths surrounding self-harm along with helpful facts to provide a more complete understanding of the issue.



Self-harm is a mental illness. Self-harm is a behavior, one that indicates a need for additional coping skills in one way or another.
Self-harm is a failed suicide attempt. Not all individuals who self-harm are suicidal.
Typically, those who self-injure are doing it to cope with something that is painful to them.
People self-harm because they want attention. Seeking attention isn’t why people intentionally harm themselves, even though they very well may benefit from having attention on them.
Self-harm is a minor problem that doesn’t need focus. Self-harm isn’t about the action, it’s about why an individual feels they need to take that action.
If you’re harming yourself on purpose, you’re crazy. By seeking help for self-harm, an individual is taking positive steps in their mental health. 

Being alert to the signals of self-harm

There are a few signs that someone might be deliberately harming themselves. And while it’s most common during the ages of 12-18, self-harm can happen at any age. Here are a few things to look out for:
  • Unexplained wounds or scars
  • Blood stains on clothing, towels, or bedding
  • Preoccupation with sharp objects or cutting instruments
  • Frequent accidents or mishaps
  • Covering up with loose clothing or clothing that hides arms, legs, or other body parts, especially in warm weather
  • Seclusion and often irritated
Plus, when someone is hurting themselves, they may go to great lengths to hide their injuries. They may feel ashamed about their actions and the wounds and scars that self-harming leave behind. It is this shame that can sometimes lead to not wanting others to know about it
If a classmate, coworker, friend, or loved one opens up to let you know they’re self-harming and want to talk about what’s going on, it’s important to react calmly and to listen without judging them. In addition to needing help to address the issue, the individual may also require medical attention for their wounds (depending on how deep, if sutures are needed, or possible infection).

Help is available when you need it

If you or a loved one are engaging in self-harming behaviors, there are plenty of resources available to help. All it takes is a first step.
  • The Cardinal Innovations crisis line is answered by trained professionals within 30 seconds any time of day or night. Call 1-800-939-5911 for a safe environment to talk, get referrals or get immediate help.
  • The website S.A.F.E Alternatives offers information for individuals seeking treatment for self-injurious behavior, and hosts the information line 1-800-DONTCUT (1-800-366-8288).
  • The Crisis Text Line. To get help for self-harm, simply text CONNECT to 741741 and get connected to a trained crisis counselor.
  • The Trevor Lifeline is available to support LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386.

About the Author
Amy Mock, LCMHC-S, CEDS is the Medical Services Liaison at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare
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