In The Know Zone

self injury basics

Editor's Note: the content of this Web article may be triggering for those who self-injure.

Who does it?

There is a general perception that SI is more prevalent among adolescent girls and young women than among adolescent and adult males. However, some studies have found similar rates in both males and females.[7]

It was suggested that the higher percentages of male self-injurers reported in a few of the early studies might stem from expanding the definition of SI to encompass high-risk activities likely to result in injury. However, Klonsky, et. al., in their study of 2,000 Air Force recruits, found virtually equal numbers of males (2.5%) and females (2.4%) responding affirmatively to the statement “When I get very tense, hurting myself physically somehow calms me down,” while more of the male (2.5%) than female respondents (1.7%) agreed with the statement “I have hurt myself on purpose several times.”[8]

As with depression, however, the number of female self-injurers seeking help for the condition greatly exceeds that of males, resulting in the standard description of the self-injurer as an intelligent, well-educated, middle to upper middle class female in her mid-20s to early 30s who began self-injuring in her teens.[9]

On average, respondents quoted in a survey by reported 50 acts of SI and two thirds had cut or otherwise injured themselves within the preceding month.[10]

The survey noted that 57 of the respondents had taken a drug overdose and half of them had overdosed at least four times. Despite that early finding, drug or alcohol overdosing is not generally included in the list of self-injurious practices in the U.S, though it is included among the predisposing factors to SI.

In Britain, where it is included, self-poisoning with non-prescription medications is the most common form of deliberate self-harm.[11] The explanation for that difference may lie in the definitions for the practice: the British definition includes self-harm irrespective of the apparent purpose,[12] while the U.S. definition restricts self-injury to injury without intent to commit suicide.[13] This distinction renders British and U.S. statistics on the matter difficult to compare.

Despite that broader definition, the recorded incidence of self-harm in Britain is less than half that of the U.S. (400/100,000 population). [14] The reported incidence of self-harm is even lower on the European continent—193/100,00 females and 140/100,000 males, based on a definition similar to that used in Britain.[15] The ratio of female to male patients in Britain is about 50/50, suggesting that the more recent U.S. studies showing less of a female bias among self-injurers may reflect the current reality. As noted above, however, any comparison should be treated with caution.

[7] Klonsky, E., Olltmanns, T., and Turkheimer, E., Deliberate Self-Harm in a Nonclinical Population: Prevalence and Psychological Correlates, excerpted in Arehart-Treichel, J., Does Self-Harm Constitute Unique Personality Disorder? Psychiatric News, September 19, 2003, p. 19. available at Accessed 1/5/2005

[8] Ibid.

[9] Favazza, AR &.Conterio, K.. "Female Habitual Self-Mutilators." Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1989. Vol. 79, quoted in Martinson, D., Secret Shame: Demographics, available at Accessed 9/22/2004

[10] Ibid.

[11] House, A., Owens, D., and Patchett, L., Deliberate Self Harm, in Quality in Health Care, 1999, 8:137-143, available at,

[12] Ibid

[13] Favazza, A.R.,, quoted in Secret Shame, available at Accessed 9/22/2004

[14] Deliberate Self Harm, p. 1.

[15] O'Brien, A., Women and Parasuicide: A Literature Review, Women's Health Council (Ireland), available at Accessed 1/6/2005.



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