Is it a Suicide Attempt or Self-injury?

Many mistakenly believe that anyone who intentionally harms their own body is trying to end their life.  The legal and mental health systems are challenged by a lack of clarity about suicidal behavior.  Police stations, jails and some psychiatric facilities will often put someone on ‘suicide watch’ for self harming behaviors.

Although some people injure themselves in a suicide attempt, the act of self- injury is often something quite different than an attempt to end life.  To understand self-injury it is essential to make a distinction between the act of self-injury and a suicide attempt.

Suicide is defined as an intentional act of killing yourself.  With a suicide attempt a person’s intention is to end their life, with both intent to end life and knowledge of medical lethality predictors of the outcome.  A self-injurious act must occur with at least some intent to die as a result of the act in order to be considered a suicide attempt.  This intent may not be explicit to be considered a suicide attempt.  Examples of an inferred attempt include an overdose that is discovered or pulling the trigger on a gun, but the gun failing to fire. There does not have to be any injury or harm, just the potential for injury.

In contrast, self-injury is deliberate, direct destruction of body tissue resulting in tissue damage. Cutting, a common form of self injury, is often not an attempt at suicide.  This Overland Park Car Accident Lawyer notes that many people opt for injury which looks like accidents to get away with self harm.  This is extremely dangerous not just for yourself but also people around you. They don’t necessarily want to die, nor do they often see happiness as attainable.  They just want to stop feeling miserable.

When someone experiences the numbness of repeated trauma, the tissue damage, physical pain and blood from injuring yourself can be a reminder of life. Behaviors such as burning and cutting help to control emotion and obtain help from an indifferent or punishing environment.

The difference that emerges between suicide attempts and self-injury is in intention and lethality. In one study non-suicidal acts of self-harm were reported as intended to express anger, punish oneself, generate normal feelings and distract oneself.  In contrast, the most often reported intention of suicide attempts was to make others better off.

Self-injury, therefore, can be seen as inadequate solutions to overwhelming, intensely painful emotion.  On the other hand, suicide attempts include self-injurious acts or acts with potential for harm (for example, putting a gun in your mouth) that have an explicit or inferred intent to die as a result of the act.

12 Replies to “Is it a Suicide Attempt or Self-injury?”

  1. Pingback: PsychCentral
  2. Pingback: Lifeline
  3. Pingback: LifeWorks NW
  4. I started self-injuring as a teenager. It is under control at this point (I am now 45) but the urge still rises when things go really wrong. I have never really dealt with the underlying issues that caused this behavior to begin. Compassionate, effective mental health assistance is still unattainable for many of us. The county facilities need to serve the more critically ill among us, and private treatment is not affordable for many of us who are managing to hold jobs but still live in marginalized circumstances.
    I was not trying to kill myself when I was put in the hospital at 16 for a suicide attempt and humiliated and treated as less than human by most of the so called “professionals” there. I was dubbed a “hysterical neurotic” by the clown of a psychiatrist who “treated” me. Fortunately when my son started having problems with depression he was treated in a compassionate fashion and thus has been willing to seek help. I think it is no surprise, however, that many older people with mental health issues are reluctant to seek help (providing we could even afford it) given the way we have been treated when we did so in the past.

  5. I discovered self injury while trying to suicide in 1993 when I was 38. I cut into my arm so I could inject air into my veins and suddenly felt relief as I bled. I continued to cut for several years. I hadn’t cut in many years and then had a particularly difficult time and cut again. I think it has been 2 years. I hope to never do it again. Explaining the scars is difficult and I usually say, “it’s a long story, too long to get into.”

  6. Pingback: MHA of NYC
  7. When I started cutting, I was no longer a teen. I’d only make a few shallow cuts, but last year I’d dare to make a slightly deeper one. Still, I hate blood and the mess it causes, so I resort to bite my arm hard and sometimes bang my head against the wall, and I’ve been tempted to drink until I black out, but even getting buzzed feels horrible afterward because of the hangover. No one close to me knows about it (not that they’d care too much anyway), and after a couple of years in crappy therapy with different doctors, I don’t really trust therapy anymore, as I think it will always be crappy.

  8. SLF INJURY A TEEN.DAD DIED,I WAS 4 .MOTHER a ALCOHOLIC,CAN REMEMBER. I WAS THE 1 SHE DUMPTED ON, REMEMBER WATCHING J CARSON,LAUGHING AT A JOKE,ONLY TO BE BEAT UP,CAUSE I WOKE HER UP..ALSO SHE USED TO THROW THINGS AT ME.AT THE TIME,1960s,went to police,told to go home little boy.. WAS A VICTUM OF BULLYING,ELEMENTARY,JR HIGH-HIGH SCHOOL,2 OTHER BROTHERS USED TO BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF ME,AS I WAS GROWING UP..then i did the dumbest..married an abuser,hit me and yelled at alot..still cut and since 1997 suicidal at times,GOOD NEWS,DIVORCED,BAD NEWS,DONT SEE MY CHILD MUCH,SPOUSE USED PSYCH DISBILY,AGAINST ME IN COURT..STILL CUTTING………………………..

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. Cutting is often a way to manage extremely painful emotions. I hope that you have some support in your life and that you’re able to find some helpful treatment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *