Cutting is a form of self-harm that has increased in recent years particularly among teenage girls. In addition to cutting one’s skin, some teens embed crayons, metal or plastic into the wound after they have cut themselves. Cutting or self-mutilation are not attempts at suicide but rather are a means of coping with painful circumstances or emotions.
Teens who cut and self-mutilate have experienced life events such as abuse (both physical and sexual), anxiety or depression, from which they feel the self-destructive behavior gives them a sense of relief. Some teens indicate cutting gives thems some level of control in their life or provides a temporary escape from their situation. Researchers report that the act of cutting may release endorphins in the body (the chemicals released that make us feel euphoric), further stimulating the destructive behavior.
There is a lack of research investigating the incidence of self-harm activities, however a 2002 study by Ross and Heath found through interviews with 440 high school students that nearly 14 percent of teens reported they engaged in self-mutilating behavior. Girls reported higher rates of 64 percent, versus 36 percent for boys and 59 percent of the students reported that they had started self-destructive behaviors during 7th and or 8th grade.
Teens may only cut or self-mutilate themselves a couple of times then stop. Other teens may cut themselves because they are following what their friends suggest, influenced by peer pressure. Still others find that the behavior is addictive and hard to stop and those teens will need active intervention. It is also important to note that while cutting is not an attempt at suicide, teens who do cut may experience enough unhappiness that they are susceptible to suicidal behavior so they should be monitored and followed by a mental health professional.
Warning signs of self-cutting:
• Observation of cuts, burns, scars in various part of a teen’s body
• Wearing long pants or shirts even in warm weather
• Blood stains noticed on clothing
• Hearing that friends of the teen cut or self-mutilate
• Increased observation that the teen isolates herself from family and friends
• Seek an individual therapist or counselor to meet with the teen
• Seek group or family counseling if needed
• Encourage teens to seek help from school counselors or nurses if feeling stressed during the school day
• Work on methods of adaptive coping to stress with the teen-- e.g., exercise, club activities, creative outlets such as music or art
• Medication or residential treatment if other methods do not provide enough improvement
The world is a stressful place and does not become less so as the teen ages. It is important to address and actively intervene if a teen is showing signs of emotional disturbances leading to self-destructive behavior.
Below are websites where teens and their families can find support:
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s health care and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles