by Kimberly Allen, RN
Cutting is a serious type of self abuse where a person cuts themselves until they bleed. Cutting is the new anorexia among teenagers today and is a growing concern among mental health experts. Cutting is a serious problem for at least 3 million Americans. Cutting, as well as other types of self injury, occurs in all cultures and socioeconomic classes. Approximately 15% of teenagers 15-16 years of age have deliberately injured themselves. Cutting is more common in girls with approximately 1 in every 200 girls having cut themselves at some point. However, males also participate in self injury behavior. People usually start cutting when they are between 10-16 yeas of age and unfortunately most parents have no idea that their child is injuring themselves by cutting.
So why do they feel the need to hurt themselves? Many people think that cutting is suicidal behavior when the truth is that cutting is rarely a suicide attempt though it can occur accidentally if the person cuts too deeply. Most people that cut have suffered from a significant emotional trauma or are suffering from ongoing emotional trauma like physical or sexual abuse. There are also conditions that can cause a person to become a “cutter” including a major depression or anxiety disorder as well as bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s important to remember that not all people suffering from one of these disorders will become a cutter, there are a wide variety of reasons why people become cutters.
It can be very difficult for many people, especially parents to underdstand why someone especially a young person would intentionally cut themselves. I met a young woman that was a cutter and asked her why? She said it made her feel better. For many people cutting is a coping mechanism to help them deal with the pain that can be caused by strong emotions. Others cut because they desperately need relief from the”bad” feelings they have and they don’t know a better way to get that relief. Unfortunately there are web sites on the Internet that can only be described as pro cutting that not only encourage by glorifying cutting. Cutting can be dangerous. The most obvious and most common dangers are cutting too deep and infection. However, there are other potentially dangerous risks to cutting including becoming addicted to it.
What are some of the warning signs that someone you know may be a cutter? Most people that cut use their arms or legs so you may notice someone frequently has injuries like cuts and burns that they can’t really explain. Most cutters will wear long sleeves and/or long pants even when it’s warm, even hot out. People that cut tend to have a low self esteem and difficulty handling or expressing their feelings. Many also demonstrate problems functioning at school, home and work.
If you suspect someone you know is a cutter it’s important to “open the lines of communication”. The Self Injury Foundation can help you with information on how to effectively open those lines especially if it’s a teenager you are hoping to help. One of the first things they say is to think everything through especially your reaction before initiating the conversation. If you react with anger or minimize the problem you could actually encourage the cutting. It’s very important not to be judgmental however, you do want to be direct. Once you’ve opened the lines of communication it’s important to be supportive, encourage the teenager to express herself and offer to help her find a therapist that can help her learn new, healthier and safer ways of coping with intense emotions.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.