Although cutting and self-harm occurs in girls and boys of all ages and social demographics, it is most common among Caucasian females from stable, middle- or upper-class families. Also known as self-mutilation, cutting and other forms of self-harm are the result of stress, anxiety and serious mental or emotional challenges. Recognizing the signs and indications of self-injury can help parents and caregivers get their teen the help that she needs to overcome this destructive pattern of behavior. In most cases, overcoming self-mutilation behavior requires the assistance of a mental health professional.
What is Cutting?
Cutting and other forms of self-injury or harm involve the intentional infliction of damage, usually for the purpose of causing pain. Mental health experts observe this behavior in young people who are attempting to relieve psychological pain. When emotional pain and pressure become too much for a young person to bear, self-harm is a desperate attempt to relieve pressure and forestall the emotional pain. In addition to cutting, teenagers may pick or scratch wounds, bite or burn themselves, or in extreme cases, repeatedly hit their head or other body parts against a hard surface. These behaviors, although highly disturbing to parents and family members, are rarely associated with suicide attempts.
Signs and Symptoms of Self-Harm
Kids who cut will typically use razor blades, scissors, knives, broken glass or other sharp objects. The body locations for cutting can vary widely or change positions; however the forearms, upper arms, legs and abdomen are common. This behavior is not socially acceptable, so teens will endeavor to hide the area and offer alternative explanations if someone notices the wounds or scars. After cutting, she may experience a manic episode in which she appears happy and overly energetic. Young people who harm themselves know the behavior is wrong, and consequently may engage in an ongoing internal battle to stop. Much like addiction, kids who endeavor to stop on their own without help almost always return to cutting when life becomes overwhelming. In some cases, similarly afflicted kids find each other within their social circles. This can be especially dangerous because knowing that others engage in self-harm can validate the behavior and diminish the desire to stop.
Helping Teens Who Cut
Diverting a teenager’s energy and minimizing stress can help alleviate the need to cut. This may involve participation in sports, taking up a musical instrument or spending time with a counselor or trusted adult. Unless self-harming behaviors are detected and addressed, kids frequently take up drug or alcohol abuse in an attempt to dull the pain. The most effective means of helping young people prone to self-injury is teaching them effective ways to cope with stress.
Havenwood Academy provides residential treatment programs specifically designed for adolescent and teen girls who engage in self-mutilating behaviors. This condition must be taken seriously and requires the immediate attention of medical personnel. Contact the compassionate professionals at Havenwood today if you suspect your daughter or another young woman in your care is cutting or harming herself in another way.