Diagnosis of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

A diagnosis is made via a medical professional’s evaluation.

First, medical professionals examine the individual to determine whether any of their injuries require treatment.

To diagnose non-suicidal self-injury, medical professionals must determine whether the act was intended to:

  • Cause death (suicidal behaviour); or
  • Not (non-suicidal self-injury).

To do so, medical professionals evaluate the individual’s intent, reasons, and mood.

Individuals who engage in non-suicidal self-injury may state that they harm themselves to obtain relief from negative feelings rather than to kill themselves. Or they may repeatedly use methods unlikely to result in death.

However, individuals who engage in self-injury can and do attempt suicide. So medical professionals talk to other people who are close to the individual about changes in the individual’s mood and stresses in the individual’s life so that they can evaluate the individual’s risk of suicide.

If individuals do not think their self-injury is a problem, they may be reluctant to talk about it. Thus, to evaluate individuals who have injured themselves, medical professionals first try to help these individuals talk about their self-injury. To do so, medical professionals communicate the following:

  • That they have heard the individual and take the person’s experiences seriously; and
  • That they understand how the individual feels and how those feelings could result in self-injury.

Medical professionals then try to determine the following:

  • How individuals injure themselves and how many different ways they do it (for example, do they burn and cut themselves?).
  • How often they injure themselves.
  • How long they have been injuring themselves.
  • What purpose injuring themselves serves.
  • How willing they are to participate in treatment.

Medical professionals also check for other mental disorders and try to estimate how likely individuals are to attempt suicide.

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