Self-injury, also known as self-harm or non-suicidal self-injury, is deliberate self-inflicted harm to oneself. Behaviors that cause pain but are not done with the intention of ending life are considered self-injury. This includes cutting, burning, and biting – but can also include behaviors such as banging your head against a wall, hitting objects, or scratching. Often, self-injury is used as a way to cope with negative emotions.
Among college students, self-injury is common. One study, surveying over 14,000 college students, found that 15.3% had engaged in self-injury behaviors at least once in their lifetime, with higher rates among female students. 1 Among female students, the most common behavior was scratching and cutting, in easily covered areas such as the wrists, arms, thighs and stomach. This is compared to male students who reported punching objects with the intention of self-injury.1 Female students were more likely to disclose their self-injury behavior and to seek help compared to male students, raising concerns about the stereotyping of self-injury behaviors as a predominately female issue.1 While self-injury make look and manifest differently between the sexes, it is a problem across genders, races, ages, and ethnicities.
One way to help students is to be observant, such as noticing behaviors that may be indicative of self-injury includes obvious cuts, marks, and injuries on the hands and arms. Fostering self-compassion on campus and in the classroom may be another way to help students who may be struggling with self-injury. Recent research among self-injury college students has shown that there is a link between engaging in self-injury and low levels of self-compassion.2 Higher levels of self-compassion, the way in which we relate to ourselves internally, may reduce the amount of pain we are willing to tolerate – potentially reducing the frequency and duration of self-injury.2
1Whitlock, J., Muehlenkamp, J., Purington, A., Eckenrode, J., Barreira, P., Abrams, G. B., … Knox, K. (2011). Nonsuicidal self-injury in a college population: General trends and sex differences. Journal of American College Health, 59(8), 691-698.
2Gregory, W. E., Glazer, J. V., & Berenson, K. R. (2017). Self-compassion, self-injury, and pain. Cognitive Therapeutic Research, 41, 777-786. doi: 10.1007/s10608-017-9846-9