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Quick Facts

Nonsuicidal Self-Injury

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What is nonsuicidal self-injury?

Nonsuicidal self-injury is hurting yourself on purpose, without trying to kill yourself. For example, if you cut your skin to hurt but not to kill yourself, that is called a nonsuicidal self-injury—it is not attempted suicide. The most common examples of nonsuicidal self-injury are:

  • Cutting or stabbing your skin with a sharp object (eg, knife, razor blade, needle)

  • Burning your skin (usually with a cigarette)

Nonsuicidal self-injury:

  • Usually starts in the early teens and stops by early adulthood

  • Is equally common in boys and girls

  • Is more common in people with borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, or addiction problems

  • Is often done on visible body parts, such as your forearms

Nonsuicidal self-injuries should be taken seriously. People who injure themselves on purpose are likely to do it again, and may be more likely to attempt or commit suicide.

Why do people injure themselves on purpose?

The reason is not always clear, but self-injury may be a way that people try to:

  • Lower stressful or negative feelings

  • Punish themselves for something they think they did wrong

  • React to relationship problems

  • Get other people to help them

How do doctors treat non-suicidal self-injury?

Doctors will ask about your injuries and what happened. They’ll take your actions seriously and try to figure out if you might try to kill yourself.

Doctors treat nonsuicidal self-injury with psychotherapy (a treatment that involves working with a mental health care practitioner). Two types of psychotherapy used to treat non-suicidal self-injury are:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)—in weekly and individual sessions over the course of a year, the therapist helps you learn how to manage stress

  • Emotion regulation group therapy—helps you become aware of and accept negative emotions

Medicines can help some people. If you have mental health disorders besides non-suicidal self-injury, doctors will treat those.

It is important to have follow-up doctors’ appointments to make sure the self-injury has stopped.