Frequently Asked Questions
Anyone who self injures will inevitably be asked the question ‘Why do you do it?’. Here we’ve made as comprehensive a list of frequently asked questions concerning self injury and depression as possible.

If there are any questions we haven’t answered please contact me.


What is self injury, who self injures and why?

What is self injury?
In short, self injury (or self harm) is a coping mechanism – a deliberate, non suicidal act which inflicts pain on the body. Someone might harm themselves to deal with overwhelming emotions or situations, to feel in control or to stop feelings of numbness by invoking a (painful) sensation.

Why do people self-injure?
People self-injure to deal with their emotional distress. There are various ways in which people cope when they are in distress or upset, and self-injury is one type of coping mechanism. Specific reasons behind an individual’s self-injury are so varied it would be impossible to list them all. But some of the most common reasons people give are bullying, pressure at work/school, abuse, relationship problems, financial worries, or a combination of smaller things, which build up into something big.

Some people find it easier to deal with physical pain than emotional pain because it makes the feelings more real. Self-injury can become a natural response to the stresses of day to day life and can become more frequency and severe. It’s important to not that self injury, while it provides temporary relief, doesn’t deal with the underlying issues affecting that person.

But surely it can’t be good to hurt yourself?
It isn’t ‘good’ or healthy to hurt yourself, in the same way that it is not healthy to drink too much alcohol, eat unhealthily or to drive dangerously (in fact these can be types of self-harm). However for people who self-injure it is one way they have to cope with their distress.

Can’t people just stop self-injuring?
It’s not that simple. People cannot stop self-injuring until they have another way to cope with their emotions. It can take a long time to find a more healthy coping mechanism. Because self-injury can become a habit (or even seen as an addiction) it can be a very difficult cycle to break, and usually people will need help and time (sometimes a very long time) to overcome it.

How do people self-injure?
People self-injure in many different ways. Cutting, burning, overdosing (without suicidal intent) and bruising are just some of the many forms of self-injury. It’s best not to give a lot of specific details as this might encourage people to try new and more harmful methods. While people can injure any part of their body, arms and legs are frequently cited as the most common places. This is perhaps because they are easy to access, and to cover up.

How do I know if what I am doing is self-injury?
Whether or not something is self-injury depends upon why you are doing it. If you are deliberately hurting yourself to relieve tension or distress, to punish yourself, or generally to cope with how you are feeling then it is self-injury. Other less conscious ways of hurting yourself, for instance biting fingernails without even noticing you’re doing it can also be types of self-harm. However, when we talk about self-injury or self-harm we usually mean deliberate acts of harm. It doesn’t really matter whether what you are doing is officially self-injury or self-harm. If it is causing you problems, then it it is something you should get help for.

So, are you saying that it’s fine to self-injure if I want to?
Not at all. Self-injury is not something to be ashamed of; after all it is a coping mechanism. But, it is not the most healthy way to cope. Even people who say their self-injury isn’t a problem will most likely say that there are times they wish they didn’t, for instance when people ask them about their scars. I think if most people are honest with themselves they would want a life free from self-injury.

What’s the difference between self-injury, self-harm and self-mutilation?
Self-injury can also be known as self-harm. Self-harm can include other behaviours such as eating disorders and alcohol abuse, whereas self-injury usually refers to specifically injurious behaviour such as self-cutting. Lots of people use both terms, but at the end of the day it isn’t very important.

On the other hand self-mutilation is a term which most people who self-injure don’t like, and it can be quite offensive. Generally these days self-mutilation is a term only used to describe very extreme cases of self-injury (usually when someone is very seriously ill), or by those who don’t realise that it causes offence!

Are people who self-injure mentally ill?
Many people who self-injure are affected by mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Of course having a mental health problem is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. But not everyone who self-injures has a diagnosable mental health condition. However, everyone who self-injures has the right to get help and support and to find happiness in their lives and not feel the need to hurt themselves anymore.

Isn’t self-injury just attention seeking?
This is a common misconception. In fact most people who self-injure take great care to hide their self-injury, for instance by wearing clothes which cover their injuries. Remember of course that everyone does need attention, so in the minority of cases where people are attention seeking then it’s important to look at why they are wanting attention in this way – perhaps there is an underlying problem.

But what about people self-injuring to copy other people?
It might be the case that a small proportion of people self-injure because they have seen someone else doing it. However, it is vital to remember that self-injury is not healthy and it is most likely a sign of emotional distress, so all self-injury needs to be taken seriously.

If someone is self-injuring and it isn’t leaving scars surely this means that they aren’t in that much emotional distress?
People self-injure in different ways, some leaves physical scars and some doesn’t – a physical scar does not make a person’s emotional pain any more or les valid. Just because someone self-injures to an extent that they require stitches doesn’t mean that they are in any more emotional pain than someone who superficially scratches themselves. However, it is important to know that self-injury can increase over time, so it might be a case of concern if someone starts using more harmful methods.

Doesn’t self-injury only affect teenaged girls?
No! Self-injury affects people of all ages, male and female, all sexualities, religions, cultures and races. The media tends to use stereotypes of teenaged girls, but this is really misleading. The message needs to be got across that self-injury can affect anyone.

Isn’t self-injury just a phase someone will grow out of?
Some people will only self-injure once, to experiment, in the same way that someone might try drugs once. Some people might self-injure a few times, but manage to get help before things spiral out of control. It is great if people can get help before their self-injury becomes a habit, and find more healthy coping mechanisms. But for some people self-injury can be a long-term problem, and can go on for years. It is certainly not something that people will ‘grow out of’, especially as we have to consider that many people don’t even start self-injuring until they are older!