Self-Injurious Behaviour

Self-injury is sometimes called “deliberate self-harm," “cutting," or “non-suicidal self-injury." Self-injury typically refers to a variety of behaviours in which an individual intentionally inflicts harm to her/his body without suicidal intent. The goal of the behaviour is to express and obtain relief from deep distress and emotional pain that often stems from childhood trauma. Self-injury can include a variety of behaviours; it is most commonly associated with intentional carving or cutting of the skin; subdermal tissue scratching; burning, ripping, or pulling skin or hair; swallowing toxic substances; self-bruising; and breaking bones.

Detecting and intervening in cases of self-injurious behaviour can be difficult because the practice is often secretive and involves body parts that are relatively easy to hide. Unexplained burns, cuts, scars, or other clusters of similar markings on the skin can be signs of self-injurious behaviour. Other signs include inappropriate dress for the season (consistently wearing long sleeves or pants in summer), constant use of wrist bands/coverings, unwillingness to participate in activities (such as swimming or gym classes) that require less body coverage, odd or unexplainable paraphernalia (e.g., razor blades or other implements that could be used to injure oneself), and heightened signs of depression or anxiety.

Creating a safe environment is critical for youth exhibiting self-injurious behaviour. Avoid displaying shock or showing great pity. It is important that questions about the marks be non-threatening and emotionally neutral. Evasive responses from those engaging in self-injury are common. An expression of your concern for her/his well-being may be what the student most needs, though.

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