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College Students: Self Harming

Self Harm in
College Students

Self-injury, also known as self-harm, self-mutilation, or self-abuse occurs when someone intentionally and repeatedly harms themself. Self-harm is often used as a way to take pain out on themselves and is usually not meant to be suicidal, however it can be very dangerous and can lead to serious injury or even death in certain situations. College students often self-harm to cope with intense emotions.

Some common methods of self-harming include the following:

  • Skin cutting

  • Head banging or hitting

  • Burning

  • Excessive scratching

  • Punching self or objects

  • Drinking something harmful

  • Taking drugs/ using alcohol

Self harming is most common among teenagers, but is also common on college campuses. Because a lot of people find it uncomfortable to talk about, self-harming is not widely discussed and many people are very uneducated on the topic. It's estimated that over 20-30% of college students self-harm during their time at college. report some form of self-injury.


While teenagers and young adults with non-suicidal self injury do not intend to commit suicide, they may cause more harm than intended, which could result in medical complications or even death.

Why do people self-harm?

People, especially young people self-injure for various reasons. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Obtain relief from a negative feeling or mental state

  • Resolve an interpersonal difficulty, like a disagreement with a friend or loved one

  • Induce a positive feeling state

  • Recently had a breakup or event that caused severe depression and individual is unaware of how to get help or obtain resources

  • Severe depression and/or loneliness

  • Feeling of hopelessness or helplessness

  • Wants to feel pain/feels guilty about something

Many people believe that young people self harm out of attention, but this is very rarely the case. Most young adults who self-injure try to hide their cuts or scars, because they don't want their peers and family to see it.

Self harm can be a very delicate subject for people, as a lot of people don't understand self harm or why someone would hurt themselves. Self-injury is very serious and should never be taken lightly.

What are the warning signs that a college student may be self-harming?

  • Unexplained frequent injuries including cuts and burns,

  • Low self-esteem

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless for the future

  • Relationship problems or avoidance of relationships

  • Consistently hiding skin with extra clothing, especially during the summer

  • wearing baggy clothes/hoodies/long sleeves

  • Problems eating and/or sleeping

  • Sudden decline in taking care of their appearance

  • Mood changes or mood swings

  • Loss of interest in favorite hobbies or sports

  • Changes in socializing patterns and/or friend groups

If you think one of your friends may be harming themselves, talk to them about it. Remain calm, empathetic, and

non-judgemental. College students may feel embarrassed to ask for help or tell someone that they are self-harming. It's important to listen to them and not offer advice, but instead reassure them that help is out there and resources are there for help and that they should not feel ashamed.

Self Harm and Suicide

Often times, people assume that if a teenager is self harming, then they are suicidal, but this is not always true. Teens who self-injure to get rid of negative feelings are not necessarily suicidal.

While the causes of self-harm can vary, college stress may act as a trigger. Unexpressed intense emotions, feelings of powerlessness, and emotional numbness can all contribute to the desire to engage in self-injury.

People may turn to self-injury in an effort to manage their emotional distress or sense of disconnectedness or even loneliness. They might use self-harm to distract themselves from overwhelming emotions and to feel something physical when experiencing emotional detachment.


College students i may use self-harm to cope with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Symptoms of depression, such as feelings of worthlessness, irritability, and anger, can lead to urges to self-harm.

While self-harming doesn't mean that someone is necessarily suicidal, it can trigger suicidal thoughts and may eventually lead to suicide attempts. It's important to reach out for help if you are self-harming. Contact the One Life Project Helpline for help finding resources in your area!

Self-Harming Myths
Myth: College students who self-harm are doing it for attention.

Truth: College students and teenagers who self-harm generally are trying to escape negative feelings, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, or feelings of punishment or guilt for something they believe they did wrong. Individuals who self-harm are typically ashamed and want to hide their behavior. It's extremely rare and very uncommon for a young person to self-harm for attention.

Myth: Young people who self-injure want to die or attempt suicide.
Truth: Teens who self-injure usually do not want to die and are usually not suicidal. When they self-har
m, they are typically not trying to end their life, but they are trying to cope with their feelings and emotional pain and do so through self inflicted pain. However, in the long-term, people who self-injure have a much higher risk of attempting suicide if they don't receive proper support and recovery, which is why it’s so important to seek help.


Myth: Cutting is the only kind of self-harming behavior.

Truth: Cutting is a common form of self-harm, but there are other types of self-harming behavior.

People often associate cutting with self-harm. However, in young people, the most common forms of self-harm are scratching, cutting, and hitting. Other forms of self-harm can include burning, kicking, punching, or attempting to self-poison with medications or toxic liquids. It's also reported by some experts that in some more rare cases, people may pick at wounds or engage in extreme behaviors that result in broken bones. There is a range of actions that constitute self-harm behavior.

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