Self Injury: Is It a Syndrome?

  • Michelle Eisenkraft


Self injury (SI) typically refers to a variety of behaviors associated with self harm without suicidal intent. While there remains a dearth of research on this subject there is emerging evidence to suggest that SI is increasing amongst clinical and non-clinical populations. Studies estimate that 4% of the general population has self-injured (White Kress, 2003; Klonsky, Oltmanns & Turkheimer, 2003); the prevalence among college students is even higher, ranging from 12% (Favazza, 1996) to 35% (Gratz, 2001) of students having had at least one episode of SI. As might be expected, the incidence is higher among clinical populations. In spite of this prevalence, there remains a particular lacuna of research on the phenomenon. The aim of this paper is to briefly review the extant research on SI and discuss the merits of incorporating SI into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a separate diagnosis.


Favazza, A. R. (1996). Bodies under siege self-mutilation and body modification in culture and psychiatry (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gratz, K. L. (2001). Measurement of deliberate self-harm: Preliminary data on the deliberate self-harm inventory. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 23, 253-263.

Klonsky, D. E., Oltmanns, T. F., & Turkheimer, E. (2003). Deliberate self-harm in a nonclinical population: Prevalence and psychological correlates. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 1501-1508.

Muehlenkamp, J. J. (2005). Self-injurious behavior as a separate clinical syndrome. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 75, 324-333.

Pattison, E., & Kahan, M. (1983). The deliberate self-harm syndrome. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 867-872.

Ross, S., & Heath, N. (2002). A study of the frequency of self-mutilation in a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 67-77.

Skegg, K., Nada-Raja, S., & Moffitt, T. E. (2004). Minor selfharm and psychiatric disorder: A population-based study. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 34, 187-196.

Warm, A., Murray, C., & Fox, J. (2003). Why do people selfharm? Psychology, Health & Medicine, 8, 72-79.

White Kress, V. E. (2003). Self-injurious behaviors: Assessment and diagnosis. Journal of Counseling & Development, 81, 490-496.