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Redmond Regional Medical Center



Self-mutilation or self-injury is any form of self-harm inflicted on your body without the intent to commit suicide.


Self-mutilation may be caused by associated psychological problems. Self-mutilation may be done to release emotional pain, anger, or anxiety . It may also be done to rebel against authority, flirt with risk-taking, or feel in control. In some cases, the behavior is outside your emotional control and related to a neurological or metabolic disorder.

Brain—Psychological Organ
Self-mutilation is often associated with psychiatric disorders that may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.
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Risk Factors

Self-mutilation is more common in females and adolescents. Other factors that may increase your chance of self-mutilation include:

It can also be associated with neurologic or metabolic disorders such as:


The symptoms of self-mutilation vary. The most common symptoms include:

  • Cutting of skin with a sharp object
  • Skin carving or burning
  • Self-punching or scratching
  • Needle sticking
  • Head banging
  • Eye pressing
  • Finger, lips, or arm biting
  • Pulling out one's hair
  • Picking at one's skin

Certain behavioral symptoms can be signs of self-multilation. These may include:

  • Wearing long sleeves or pants, even in hot weather
  • Claiming to have frequent accidents
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Behavioral and emotional difficulties

Rarely, in very severe cases, self-mutilation can include:


Self-mutilation can be difficult to diagnose. People who self-mutilate often feel guilty and ashamed about their behavior. They may try to hide it. Physical harm caused by self-mutilation may be the first sign noticed during an exam. To be diagnosed, symptoms should meet the following criteria:

  • Excess thinking about physically harming oneself
  • Inability to resist harming oneself, resulting in tissue damage
  • Increased tension before and a sense of relief after self-injury
  • Having no suicidal intent in the self-mutilation

To make an accurate diagnosis, the psychologist or psychiatrist will assess other conditions, such as personality or mood disorders, and whether there is suicidal intent. A psychosocial assessment may also be given to assess a person’s mental capacity, level of distress, and presence of mental illness.


Treatment usually includes medical and psychological treatment, as well as medications.

Medical Treatment

A doctor will assess whether care needs to be provided right away to treat or prevent further injury.

Psychologic Treatment

Psychologic treatment may be done either one-to-one or in a group setting. It is usually aimed at finding and treating the underlying emotional difficulty, trauma , or disorder. It may also include cognitive behavioral therapy .


Medications used include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood regulators
  • Anticonvulsants


The best prevention is to get help as soon as possible for depression, trauma, emotional problems, or other disorders that may lead to self-mutilation.

Revision Information

  • American Psychological Association

  • Mental Health America

  • Canadian Mental Health Center

  • Canadian Psychological Association

  • Self-harm: the short-term physical and psychological management and secondary prevention of self-harm in primary and secondary care. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence website. Available at: Updated July 2004. Accessed November 11, 2014.

  • Self-injury in adolescents. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: Updated July 2013. Accessed November 11, 2014.

  • Slee N, Garnefski N, et al. Cognitive-behavioral intervention for self-harm: randomized controlled trial. Br J Psychiatry. 2008;192:202-211.

  • Taiminin T, Kallio-Soukainen K, et al. Contagion of deliberate self-harm among adolescent inpatients. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1998;37:211.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Redmond Regional Medical Center does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.