Non-Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI)
Non-Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI) can be defined as behaviors (i.e. cutting/burning/skin scratching) resulting in physical damage with no explicit or implicit intent to die but rather to gain relief from negative emotion or obtain social reinforcement (Weissman, 2009). Other names and definitions have been ascribed to this phenomenon. It has been called parasuicide (Linehan, Armstrong, Suarez, Allmon, & Heard, 1991), self mutilation (Briere & Gil, 2010), and deliberate self harm (Odershaw, et al., 2009). Some studies have classified NSSI amongst other “self destructive behaviors” (i.e. substance abuse, binge eating, smoking, and reckless endangerment) (Herrenkohl, Catalano, Hemphill, & Toumbourou, 2009). Currently NSSI is not considered a disorder in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but a proposed revision is being considered for the creation of an NSSI diagnosis in the DSM-V (Nonsuiciadal Self Injury – Proposed Revision, 2010).
An important distinction of NSSI is that it is non-fatal by nature. If it were fatal then it would be considered suicidal behavior. NSSI events differ from suicidal events in that the intent is not death, but an improvement in psychological state (Roth & Presse, 2003). The distinction is further made by the argument of some researchers that NSSI is an “anti-suicide” behavior, suggesting that NSSI is used as a coping mechanism to avoid suicide (Suyemoto, 1998). While NSSI may be considered an attempt to avoid suicide, researchers have found a strong link between suicide and adolescents who engage in NSSI behaviors (Stanley, Gameroff, Michalsen, & Mann, 2001).
Michael Romano is a marriage and family therapy graduate student at Fairfield University.