Self-harm is a dangerous and often misunderstood behavior. Sometimes also referred to as self-injury, self-mutilation, and nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), self-harm involves the intentional infliction of pain or harm on one’s own body.
As the term NSSI indicates, self-harming behaviors are not suicide attempts. Of course, some people who engage in self-harm may also struggle with suicidal ideation. And certain self-harming behaviors may, unfortunately, lead to accidental death. But there is a distinct difference between self-harm and suicide.
It is also important to understand that self-harm is not a mental health disorder, though it can be a symptom of several mental illnesses. People who engage in self-harm may do so for several reasons, including the following:
- They are attempting to punish themselves for something they did or didn’t do.
- They feel that they have little to no control over their life, and they are using self-harm as a means of establishing some sense of control.
- They are trying to give a physical presence to emotional pain.
- They are responding to recurring, intrusive thoughts related to untreated trauma.
- They have been bullied, harassed, ostracized, or mistreated by their peers.
No matter why a person begins to engage in self-harm, they may need professional treatment to end this behavior. Thankfully, when a person receives the appropriate type and level of care, they can regain control over their thoughts and actions. With proper treatment, a person can stop engaging in self-harm and start living a healthier and more hopeful life.
Signs & Symptoms of Self-Harm
The signs and symptoms of self-harm can vary considerably from one person to the next. People who engage in self-harm may do so in a variety of ways, including the following:
- Burning their skin with lighters, candles, cigarettes, or other objects
- Repeatedly cutting themselves, often in the abdomen, upper thighs, or arms
- Pulling their hair out
- Inserting needles or other sharp objects under their skin
- Picking at scabs and sores to prevent them from healing
- Punching themselves or hitting their head against solid objects
- Hitting their limbs against hard objects with the intention of bruising their skin or breaking bones
- Forcing themselves to exercise well past the point of exhaustion
People who intentionally harm themselves often go to great lengths to hide these behaviors and the effects the behaviors have had on their bodies. Although the following are not examples of self-harm, they can be signs and symptoms that a person has been engaging in self-harm:
- Wearing long sleeves and long pants, even in hot weather
- Wearing baggy, shapeless clothing
- Refusing to change clothes in front of someone else
- Suffering from frequent unexplained injuries
- Having bruises, cuts, and other injuries that never seem to heal properly
- Exhibiting dramatic mood swings
- Acting with uncharacteristic impulsivity or instability
- Losing interest in hobbies or other important activities
- Failing to meet expectations at home or in school
- Pulling away from family and friends
- Spending excessive amounts of time alone
- Speaking of themselves with disdain or even self-hatred
Self-harm can have a significant impact on a person’s body and mind. Anyone who has been experiencing the signs and symptoms of self-harm may be in crisis and should consult with a qualified healthcare provider immediately. With proper treatment, a person can overcome the urge to harm themselves and achieve improved mental health.
Since people who intentionally harm themselves often work hard to keep this behavior a secret from family members, friends, and even medical professionals, it can be difficult to get an accurate statistical snapshot of the prevalence of self-harm. However, considerable research has enabled experts to make data-supported estimates about how many people engage in self-harm.
The American Psychological Association has reported the following statistics about self-harm:
- The rate of self-injury among adults age 18 and older is about 5%.
- Among college students, the rate of self-harm is about 15%.
- Among college students who have engaged in NSSI, about 33% told researchers they hurt themselves severely enough to require medical attention. However, only about 5% of this population sought professional care for their self-inflicted injuries.
- About 17% of adolescents have engaged in self-harm at least once.
- The rate of self-injury among children ages 5-10 is about 1.3%.
- Males account for 35%-50% of self-injury cases.
- As many as 55% of people who self-injure are struggling with an eating disorder.
What Causes Self-Harm?
A person’s risk for self-harm can be influenced by a variety of internal and external factors.
For example, self-harm is sometimes, but not always, related to a mental health disorder. Disorders that are associated with an increased risk of self-harm include the following:
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Eating disorders
- Substance use disorders (addictions)
- Bipolar disorder
The following characteristics, personality traits, and circumstances may also increase the likelihood that a person will engage in self-harm:
- Poor self-esteem
- Exposure to overwhelming stress or pressure
- Poor stress management skills
- Lack of sufficient social support
- History of untreated trauma
- Being bullied or harassed
- Age (self-harm is most common among adolescents)
- Being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community
In addition to helping a person overcome the urge to harm themselves, effective treatment can also address the mental health disorder or other underlying cause that may have contributed to the behavior in the first place.
Effects of Untreated Self-Harm
Without proper professional care, people who continue to engage in self-harm can expose themselves to significant physical, psychological, and social damage. The following are examples of the many potential negative effects of untreated self-harm:
- Infections, broken bones, and other serious physical health concerns
- Worsened health problems due to a reluctance to seek medical assistance
- Permanent damage to organs or other body parts
- Onset or worsening of mental health disorders
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Conflicts with family members and other loved ones
- Inability to form and maintain healthy friendships and romantic relationships
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Reduced performance in school or at work
- Academic setbacks
- Job loss and long-term unemployment
- Increased shame, guilt, and self-loathing
- Accidental death
The potential effects of untreated self-harm do not follow a predictable pattern. Even one instance of self-harm can cause irreversible damage or even death. This is one of the many reasons why people who are struggling with self-harm and related mental health concerns need immediate help.
When a person is receiving treatment for self-harm, they will be under the care and supervision of a team of experts. These dedicated professionals can keep the person safe while they work to address the challenges that may have prompted them to engage in self-harm.
During treatment, a person can begin to heal from any damage they might have experienced while also learning how to manage their symptoms and avoid future harm.
Levels of Care for Self-Harm
When a person is seeking treatment for self-harm and related mental health concerns, it is important to determine which level or levels of care are right for them. At CenterPointe Hospital, we offer self-harm treatment for adults and adolescents at the following levels:
- Inpatient treatment: The general goal of inpatient treatment is to help patients achieve the level of stabilization that will allow them to safely return home or step down to a lower level of care. People who receive inpatient treatment for self-harm benefit from round-the-clock care and supervision. They follow structured, personalized schedules that may include a variety of therapies and support services. Typical length of stay at this level is seven to 10 days.
- Residential treatment: Residential treatment at CenterPointe Hospital also features structured daily schedules, personalized care, several types of therapy and support services, and round-the-clock care. At the residential level, patients typically remain in treatment for 14-28 days.
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP): Our PHP features full days of treatment without a residential component. Clients may step down to our PHP after completing inpatient or residential care, or they may begin treatment at the PHP level. PHP clients may attend treatment five to seven days per week. Each treatment day typically includes four to five hours of care. Typical length of stay at the PHP level is five to seven days.
- Intensive outpatient program (IOP): Our IOP includes three hours of treatment per day, three days a week. As with our PHP, adults and adolescents may step down to one of our IOPs from a higher level of care, or they may enter treatment for self-harm directly at this level. Typical length of stay in one of our IOPs is four to six weeks.
Types of Treatment for Self-Harm
Treatment for self-harm at our hospital is a highly personalized experience. We thoroughly assess each new patient, then develop a customized plan that reflects the full scope of their needs.
Depending on several factors, including the information we gather during the assessment and the level of care the patient is participating in, their treatment for self-harm may include elements such as the following:
- Basic medical services
- Medication management
- Individual therapy
- Process groups
- Psychoeducational groups
- Experiential groups
- Family therapy
- Family support groups
- Trauma-informed therapy
- 12-Step education and support
- SMART Recovery
- Nutrition education
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Motivational interviewing
Before a patient begins any new therapy or support service, a member of their treatment team will explain the procedures and benefits and answer any questions the patient might have. We want all patients to play active roles in their treatment to the greatest degree they are able. Ensuring that each person has the information they need is a vital component of this effort.
This content was written on behalf of and reviewed by the clinical staff at CenterPointe Hospital.
Can I admit myself to a mental health ward? ›
If you think staying in hospital could help you, then you can ask your GP, psychiatrist or another health care professional to refer you. If you choose to go into hospital, you are considered a voluntary patient (also known as an informal patient).How long can a mental hospital keep you in Missouri? ›
Missouri laws allow a judge or law enforcement to send someone to an inpatient psychiatric facility for up to 96 hours for evaluation IF there is reason to believe the individual may, as a result of a mental disorder, be at risk of self-harm or harm to others.Does Missouri have a state mental hospital? ›
Fulton State Hospital, authorized in 1847 and opened in 1851, is the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River. The hospital is certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and has been accredited by The Joint Commission (TJC) since 1984.How do you commit someone to a mental hospital in Missouri? ›
Call the police or sheriff; tell them about the situation and explain why it is an emergency. If appropriate to do so, the law enforcement officer may take the person into custody and transport the person to an appropriate facility.When should you take yourself into a mental hospital? ›
- You're having suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
- You're not taking care of yourself.
- You're experiencing psychotic episodes.
The average cost to deliver care was highest for Medicare and lowest for the uninsured: schizophrenia treatment, $8,509 for 11.1 days and $5,707 for 7.4 days, respectively; bipolar disorder treatment, $7,593 for 9.4 days and $4,356 for 5.5 days; depression treatment, $6,990 for 8.4 days and $3,616 for 4.4 days; drug ...How do you deal with a mentally unstable family member? ›
Clear, honest communication is crucial for all family members. For example, don't be afraid to ask both your ill and healthy children how they feel about the changes to the family. Keeping a line of communication open will help things go more smoothly—both at the time of a new diagnosis, and well into the future.What to do if someone is mentally unstable and won t get help? ›
Call the Central Coast Hotline for mental health guidance and crisis or suicide prevention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 783-0607. Call County of SLO Behavioral Health for a behavioral health evaluation at (800) 838-1381. Call the California Peer-Run Warmline for mental and emotional support at (855) 845-7415.What does 5150 mean police? ›
5150 is the number of the section of the Welfare and Institutions Code, which allows a person with a mental challenge to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. A person on a 5150 can be held in the psychiatric hospital against their will for up to 72 hours.What aren't you allowed in a mental hospital? ›
Sharp items such as knives, razors or scissors. Corrosive/flammable items including aerosols (including aerosol deodorant, patients are asked to bring a roll-on alternative) Glass items. Plastic bags of any kind (each ward has large sturdy paper bags available for patients if they require bags)
How do I admit myself to a mental hospital near me? ›
Admission into a mental hospital usually is made through the emergency department or the hospital's community mental health care program. However, a psychologist or family doctor can arrange private mental health hospitalization as well.How long can you be an inpatient at a mental hospital? ›
You will usually spend fewer than 90 days on an acute inpatient ward. But it can be longer. Sometimes these wards are split into assessment and short-term admission, and longer-term treatment wards.Who pays for involuntary commitment? ›
Payments for involuntary care may come from various sources, including public programs, private insurance, charity programs, and out-of-pocket spending.How do you get a mentally admitted person? ›
(1) Any mentally ill person who does not, or is unable to, express his willingness for admission as a voluntary patient, may be admitted and kept as an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home on an application made in that behalf by a relative or a friend of the mentally ill person if the ...What is it called when you are forced to go to a mental hospital? ›
Involuntary civil commitment in the United States is a legal intervention by which a judge, or. someone acting in a judicial capacity, may order that a person with symptoms of a serious mental. disorder, and meeting other specified criteria, be confined in a psychiatric hospital or receive.How do I know if I'm crazy or not? ›
- Excessive fear or extreme feelings of guilt.
- Chronic sadness or irritability.
- Obsession with certain thoughts, people, or things.
- Confused thinking or problems with concentrating.
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia.
- Inability to cope with daily problems in a healthy manner.
- Initially being in a locked ward that you cannot leave at will.
- Locking away certain items that you could potentially use to harm yourself (for example, belts, razors, and shoelaces)
- Following a schedule for your meals, treatments, activities, and bedtime.
- Sharing a room with someone else.
Feelings of failure or decreased performance. Feeling that life is not worth living, having no sense of purpose in life. Talk about feeling trapped—like there is no way out of a situation. Having feelings of desperation, and saying that there's no solution to their problems.What symptoms will get you admitted to the hospital? ›
- wheezing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- chest pain.
- displaced or open wound fractures.
- fainting or dizziness.
- sudden numbness or weakness.
- bleeding that cannot be stopped.
We found that Connecticut has the best mental health care in the nation. The state has a high degree of access to care, a low number of uninsured residents with mental health issues and a low number of people who weren't able to utilize mental health services. Mental illness is incredibly common in the United States.
What happens in a mental hospital? ›
They will provide counselling to you and your family, and support you if you're feeling stressed. You will see your psychiatrist regularly, along with other types of therapists to help with different parts of your treatment. There will be staff members available at all times of the day and night.What should you not say to a mentally unstable person? ›
- “It's all in your head.” ...
- “Come on, things could be worse!” ...
- “Snap out of it!” ...
- “But you have a great life, you always seem so happy!” ...
- “Have you tried chamomile tea?” ...
- “Everyone is a little down/moody/OCD sometimes – it's normal.” ...
- “This too shall pass.”
If assisting someone else is overtaxing your time, energy, or resources—stop! Even if you agreed to do something, if the cost becomes too great, whether that's financial or emotional, you can back out or adjust how much you can help. If you are harming yourself, that is not helping.What does a mentally unstable person do? ›
Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate. Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt. Extreme mood changes of highs and lows. Withdrawal from friends and activities.What's a psychotic break? ›
This is a psychotic break — when someone loses touch with reality, experiencing delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) and what's called “disorganized” speech.Can you force someone with mental illness to get help? ›
If a loved one shows signs of a mental illness and refuses help, but is not a danger to themselves or others or showing any signs of a mental health emergency, then you cannot force them to get treatment. You can encourage them to get help, but if they refuse, you must accept your loved one's decisions.What does a psychotic episode look like? ›
Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation.What is a 1799 hold? ›
If no one is available to write a 5150 application, physicians and other licensed staff who provide emergency medical care in general acute care hospitals can place a patient on a 1799 hold to detain the person for 24 hours.What is a 402 in police code? ›
California Penal Code 402 PC, subsection a, makes it a crime to sightsee at an emergency. This is defined as lingering at the scene of an emergency in such a way that it hinders police and first responders from performing their functions.What is a 72 hour hold? ›
5150 or 72 hour hold
5150 (and 5585) is the number of the section of the Welfare and Institutions Code, which allows for a person with a mental illness to be involuntarily detained in a psychiatric hospital for a 72 hour period. This 72 hour period is sometimes referred to as an “observation period”.
What do you wear in a mental hospital? ›
No clothing will be permitted with inappropriate sayings, logos or slogans on them. Socks and shoes/slippers must be worn at all times (no bare feet). No slippers, shower shoes, flip flops, pajamas or scrubs will be permitted to be worn off the unit at any time. Wave caps are allowed during sleeping hours only.What is blanket rules? ›
The need for blanket restrictions
Blanket restrictions are rules or policies that restrict a patient's liberty and other rights, which are routinely applied without individual risk assessments to justify their application.
- Insurance card if applicable.
- Three to four days of casual, comfortable clothing with no drawstrings. ...
- Slip-on or Velcro athletic shoes. ...
- Unframed photos of family.
- Medications: inhalers, birth control pills and antibiotics if needed. ...
- Adults only: Cash up to $20 is allowed. ...
- Adults only: Cigarettes are allowed.
It is also known as being 'sectioned'. For this to happen, certain people must agree that you have a mental disorder that requires a stay in hospital. There you will have an assessment and be given treatment if needed. This is only done when you are putting your own safety or someone else's at risk.Can you leave a mental hospital without being discharged? ›
You have the right to leave the hospital if you don't want to stay. Your care team must tell you if they believe leaving hospital could put you or others at risk. Or if they're considering stopping you by detaining you under the Mental Health Act.How do you put yourself in a hospital? ›
You can walk straight into an emergency room, tell them that you are suicidally depressed and wish to be admitted for psychiatric care. If you are unable to physically get to the emergency room yourself, you can call 911 or your local emergency response number and ask for a transport.Are you allowed your phone in a mental hospital? ›
Patients should be free to use mobile phones in hospitals, including on the wards, where the local risk assessment indicates that such use would not represent a material threat to the safety, privacy or dignity of patients or others. The NHS Constitution outlines patients' right to confidentiality.How long do you stay in psych ward? ›
You will usually spend fewer than 90 days on an acute inpatient ward. But it can be longer. Sometimes these wards are split into assessment and short-term admission, and longer-term treatment wards.How do I section my self? ›
It's very unlikely that you'll be able to get yourself sectioned, as sectioning exists to help people who aren't able to help themselves, or aren't aware enough to recognise that they need help. Being sectioned is for people who do not wish to go into hospital, not for those that do.How do you get someone mentally help when they refuse? ›
- Explain. Share your concerns with your loved one by explaining why you are worried about them. ...
- Listen. Ask questions and listen to how your loved one feels about treatment. ...
- Ask how you can help. ...
- Give options. ...
- Remain open. ...
- Getting referrals to mental health services.
How do I section someone? ›
- Their mental health problem is so severe that they need urgent assessment and treatment.
- They are a danger to themselves or others due to their mental health.
Your doctor may request or arrange for you to be taken to the hospital; this is usually an elective admission or a subtype termed a direct admission. With elective admission, you require hospital care but may choose to wait for a more convenient time (for example, you may choose a date for elective knee surgery).What is it called when you put yourself in the hospital? ›
Adults usually have the right to decide whether to go to the hospital or stay at the hospital. But if they are a danger to themselves or to other people because of their mental state, they can be hospitalized against their will. Forced hospitalization is used only when no other options are available.What happens if you leave the hospital on your own? ›
You have the legal right to leave. There is no law that requires you to sign discharge documents. Still, you should prepare a letter that explains why you decided to leave. Keep a copy of the letter and give a copy to the hospital administrator.