Which term to use?
NSSI is often used interchangeably with self-injury - we do so throughout this site. However, it is important to bear in mind that someone may use the term 'self-injury' and be referring to suicidal behaviour. Likewise, while we do not use the term self-harm on this site, many people, including researchers, clinicians, and individuals with lived experience, use this term to refer to NSSI.
Regardless of the source, it is important to always ascertain whether the term is being used to refer to suicidal or non-suicidal behaviours. There are some other terms used throughout the field that may or may not refer to NSSI.
Often, when people think of 'self-harm', what comes to mind is NSSI. However, self-harm is an umbrella term that captures all self-directed injury regardless of intent. In some conceptualisations, self-harm includes indirect injury, such as that caused by reckless behaviours, or psychological injury, such as that caused by self-criticism. While NSSI falls under the self-harm umbrella, ISSS distinguishes NSSI from other behaviors due to the aetiological, functional, and predictive factors that are unique to NSSI.
Deliberate self-harm is a term usually used to refer to non-suicidal self-injury; however, it may also encompass any self-inflicted injury, regardless of intent. Determining what is meant when this term is used is important.
NSSI is sometimes referred to by focusing on particular methods (e.g., self-cutting). While cutting is among the most widely recognized forms of self-injury, the behavior can take many other forms, including burning, hitting, or scratching. Furthermore, many people who self-injure report using more than method during their lives. Therefore, we recommend avoiding this term when referring to self-injury more broadly, as it dismisses the experiences of many people.
These terms are no longer used in contemporary research and practice, but are occasionally still seen in news media. The term 'parasuicide' links injury to suicide, creating an assumption that self-injury is a suicide attempt. As we know, this is not always that case. The term 'self-mutilation' is stigmatising and harmful, characterising an individual's injury as negative due to its appearance and conjuring judgement and fear.