Self-Injury Fact Sheet
The Youth Development framework focuses primarily on understanding how to help young people thrive. To do this, however, it is important to also understand young people’s expressions of discomfort and malady. Although not a new phenomenon, “self-injury” is a practice that hampers efforts to promote thriving and which may reflect toxic conditions in the social environments youth inhabit. Self-injury is the most common label for behaviors in which a person deliberately harms him or her body. Precisely what constitutes self-injury is a matter of some debate, but it is most commonly associated with intentional carving or cutting of the skin and subdermal tissue, scratching, burning, ripping or pulling skin or hair, bruising, or breaking bones. Some researchers include excessive piercing and tattooing. Recent films such as Thirteen and Girl, Interrupted along with disclosures of self-injurious behavior by well known people such as Johnny Depp and Princess Diana have begun to draw attention to this difficult to understand behavior. Since there are signs that self-injury is becoming increasingly prevalent, it is important to understand both the practice of selfinjury and the conditions that contribute to the seemingly increasing popularity of the behavior in the general youth population. This fACT sheet is designed to briefly summarize what is known.
What is Self-Injury?
Sometimes called “cutting,” “self-mutilation,” or “self-harm,” a precise definition of the behavior is difficult to come by. In its broadest definition self-injury is an act where an individual intentionally alters or destroys body tissue for purposes that are not aesthetic nor socially sanctioned. Cutting of the subdermal tissue is by far the most frequently reported form of self-injury (Favazza & Conterio, 1989). Self-injury can be performed on any part of the body, but most often occurs on the arms and wrists (Rosen & Heard, 1995). The severity of the act can vary from superficial wounds to those resulting in lasting disfigurement (Rosen & Heard, 1995).
Reprinted with the permission of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior.
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