All over TV and social media, you see and hear a lot about “cutting”. Maybe you’re cutting yourself or know someone who does. But what is it really and why do teens do it?
The type of cutting we are talking about here is when someone, usually a teen, makes cuts on their own body. This type of cutting is not to be confused with a suicide attempt, as they are quite different. Cutting, while considered self harm, is actually an attempt to control emotional pain.
We tend to see cutting more frequently in girls than boys, but anyone can do it. Usually, it starts around age 14, but sometimes even younger, and it can last years. This is not a problem that will likely go away on its own.
Often, cutters have an underlying mental and/or eating disorder. Also, they might have been sexually, physically or verbally abused. Some teens experiment with cutting, but they really will only continue if there are serious underlying issues. The teens I have personally worked with that cut themselves had all been sexually abused. When the emotional pain got too intense, they’d cut themselves to release and control the pain.
Some teens are not able or allowed to feel pain. They might live in an environment where it is not safe to express themselves or their emotions. If they’ve been abused or have an underlying mental health issue, not being able to express themselves can become too much. They need an outlet, so they find that release in cutting.
Most teens who cut themselves describe it like a drug. The release makes them feel a rush of endorphins, similar to being high. Like a drug, it will take more and more to achieve the same result. Cutting is an unhealthy coping strategy for those that are unhappy. So how do you know if someone is cutting and what can you do?
Signs to look for:
- small, straight cuts or even words
- usually on the arms or legs
- appear like cuts and scratches, with no explanation or excuses for how they got there
- mood changes (depression, anxiety…)
- behavior changes (crying, rage…)
- changes in school (interest, grades…)
- change in relationships (break-ups, etc…)
- extreme stress
If you or someone you know is cutting, it is imperative that you seek help. If you can’t tell your parents, then find another trusted adult to tell who can help you. This does not go away on its own. It is not just a phase.
Treatment options are:
- Outpatient counseling/psychotherapy
- Inpatient treatment programs
- Psychiatric treatment, including medication for underlying mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression or bi-polar disorder
All of these will focus on stabilizing your mood, helping to increase your self-esteem, learning to identify and express your feelings in healthy ways, and utilizing new coping skills instead of cutting.
Cutting does not have to be a dirty little secret that you live with. You are not alone. Help is available and very successful. Everyone deserves to live a healthy life, and that includes your mental health. Reach out for help and learn to live the life you deserve to live.