Self-harm is a term that can be used for a variety of problems including distressed youth who superficially cut their skin to deal with their suffering, children with severe autism spectrum disorder who take self-stimulation too far, or attempted suicide.  Each of these are quite different from each other in terms of etiology and interventions.  This fact sheet discusses only youth who cut their skin or cause themselves physical injury with other methods to deal with their emotional suffering.

Other terms for self-harm include “cutting,” “self-injurious behavior,” and “nonsuicidal self injury.”

Cutting is Common

In a study of 10-14 year-old females recruited from schools and advertisements to represent a lower socioeconomic community sample (Hilt et al., 2007), researchers found the following:

  • 56% admitted to engaging in various forms of self-injurious behaviors at some point in their lifetimes.  This rate is higher than that found in most other studies, and may be due to their recruitment from a lower socioeconomic population, and by counting less severe forms of self-harm (picking at a wound, pulling hair, and hitting oneself) compared to other studies.
  • For just the more severe forms of self-harm (cutting, carving, or burning one’s skin), the rate was 22% lifetime, which is more consistent with other studies.
  • 36% admitted to doing it within the past year.  Within only this 36% of the sample, they engaged in self-harm an average of 12.8 times in the past year.
  • The average age at the first incident was 10.2 years.
  • 94% of them reported feeling no pain from the acts.
  • Only 4% had suicidal intent while doing it.

Estimates of how common cutting occurs among the general population of adolescents range from 5% to 38%, depending on how cutting is measured and what type of sample is studied (Patton et al., 1997; Rodham et al., 2004; Ross & Heath 2002; Favazza, 1992; Gratz et al. 2002).


Studies consistently show that females engage in self-harm about 2-3 times more frequently than males (Laye-Gindhu & Schonert-Reichl, 2004).

Why Do Youths Cut?

The most common reasons given for self-harm include feeling depressed, feeling alone, feeling like a failure or feeling angry at oneself, feeling a need to hurt oneself, and needing a way to distract their minds from other problems (Laye-Gindhu & Schonert-Reichl, 2004).

How to Find Specialists

You can find specialists in the New Orleans region by clicking above on Find a Provider.  Next, in the search box for Issues, select from the drop-down menu the option for Self-Harm.

If you are a provider who specializes in treating self-harm, or know someone who does, please share that information with us by emailing [email protected]

                                                                                                                                    Updated 11/14/2018

Literature Cited

Favazza, A. R. (1992). Repetitive self-mutilation. Psychiatr. Ann. 22: 60–63.

Gratz, K. L., Conrad, S. D., and Roemer, L. (2002). Risk factors for deliberate self-harm among college students. Am. J. Orthopsychiatry 72(1): 128–140.

Hilt LM, Cha CB, Nolen-Hoeksema S (2008). Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in Young Adolescent Girls: Moderators of the Distress–Function Relationship. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76,1:63-71.

Laye-Gindhu A, Schonert-Reichl KA (2004). Nonsuicidal Self-Harm Among Community Adolescents: Understanding the “Whats” and “Whys” of Self-Harm. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 34, No. 5, October 2005, pp. 447–457

Patton, G. C., Harris, R., Carlin, J. B., Hibbert, M. E., Coffey, C., Schwartz, M., and Bowes, G. (1997). Adolescent suicidal behaviors: A population-based study of risk. Psychol. Med. 27: 715–724.

Rodham, K., Hawton, K., and Evans, E. (2004). Reasons for deliberate self-harm: Comparison of self-poisoners and self-cutters in a community sample of adolescents. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 43(1): 80–87.

Ross, S., and Heath, N. (2002). A study of the frequency of self mutilation in a community sample of adolescents. J. Youth Adolesc. 31(1): 67–77.