Self-Injury: Fact vs. Myth

Last week, the international community recognized Self-Injury Awareness Day. Self-injury is very common among college students, and approximately 17-35% of college students report self-injuring. Self-injury is the direct and deliberate act of harming one’s own body, with or without the intention of suicide. There can be many different reasons for why someone self-injures, but many times it serves as an emotion regulation strategy, or a coping skill.

Unfortunately, self-injury is an unhealthy method of emotion regulation. It’s an unhealthy strategy because it could lead to negative physical and emotional outcomes. Self-injury can lead to scarring, injury, and in some cases accidental death. Many people who self-injure also fell worse in the long run, and may experience feelings of guilt, shame, or depression.

Although self-injury is very common, there are still many misconceptions about self-injury:

  • Myth: If you self-injure, you are suicidal.
    • Fact: Many people who self-injure, do it to cope with stress and feel better, not to attempt suicide. However, research also shows that self-injury can increase risk for suicide, if a person does become suicidal.
  • Myth: If you self-injure, you are mentally ill.
    • Fact: Some students who self-injure may also be struggling with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. However, there are many people who self-injure who do not have a diagnosable metal illness.
  • Myth: Only women or alternative students self-injure.
    • Fact: There is no one type of person who self-injures. Students who are high achieving to those who struggle in school may engage in self-injury. Furthermore, research suggests that men are just as likely as women to self-injure.
  • Myth: People who self-injure are manipulative and are looking for attention.
    • Fact: Many students who self-injure do it in private, and may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their injury, leading them to hide their self-injurious behavior. Others may harm themselves in hopes of communicating their need for help, not to manipulate others.

Because self-injury often serves as an emotion regulation strategy there are many alternatives skills that can be used instead of harming yourself. Some people find that letting out their energy physically, like hitting a pillow or squeezing ice in their hand, helps them feel better. Other people find talking to a friend, using self-care, or getting out and about to distract themselves helpful. Here are more ideas of strategies that can used as alternatives to self-injury.

If you are worried about yourself or a friend who self-injures, let an RA or faculty member know. In King County, there is a 24-hour Crisis Line available at (206) 461-3222 or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.



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