Youth and Mental Health 101

Mental health challenges in youth


female in crowd


What is self-harm?

When people hurt themselves on purpose, it’s considered self-harm or self-injury. Common acts of self-harm include poisoning, such as with painkillers, chemical solvents (e.g., sniffing gasoline) and alcohol.1 Other methods include cutting skin, burning skin, hitting yourself to the point of injury and preventing wounds from healing. Self-injury itself isn’t a mental illness, but it may be a sign that someone needs additional care and support.2

People self-harm for many different reasons:3

    To cope with anxiety or depression
    To cope with loss, trauma, violence or other difficult situations
    To punish themselves
    To turn emotional pain into physical pain
    To feel “real” and counter feelings of emptiness or numbness
    To feel euphoria
    To regain control of their bodies
    To simply feel better

Self-harm is not necessarily related to suicidal thoughts. Stressful life events and existing mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, are the main causes of self-harming thoughts and behaviours.4


How might self-harm affect you?

Sometimes, self-harming behaviours can become habitual and addictive, and escalating or repetitive behaviours can be dangerous. If you self-harm, it’s important to take care of your injuries. If you’re worried about an injury or your self-harm behaviour, talk to your doctor, go to your local hospital or call 911.

People who self-harm often hide the behaviour. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed, and they may avoid talking about it. If you’re worried about a friend or family member, you may find the “Conversation starters” helpful.5



    Between 2013 and 2014, nearly 2,500 youth between ages 10 to 17 were hospitalized because of intentional self-harm.6

Youth hospitalized for self-harm



1. CIHI, 2015

2. CMHA, 2019

3. CMHA, 2019

4. Hospital for Sick Children, 2016

5. CMHA, 2019

6. CIHI, 2015b

Youth and Mental Health 101 © , CAMH.