Cutting: A cry for help among today's youth
Cutting is the most common self-injurious behavior among youth in the United States.
A study published by researchers at Columbia University in 2007 estimated that up to 23 percent of adolescents engage in some form of self-injury at least once in their lives. This behavior is much more common in females than males. Although most parents understand that that cutting is a child’s “cry for help" or a method of manipulation, they may not even know it is happening.
Our clinical experience shows that most children tend to hide their cutting. Some of them cut in places such as their inner thighs or stomachs where the chance of the cuts being seen would be minimal. Some wear long sleeves even during the summer to hide the scars on their arms. They might use shaving razors, scissors or the blade of a pencil sharpener.
While some children may actually be trying to commit suicide with severe cuts, many children cut themselves with the intention to feel better. Several studies on self-injurious behavior among adolescents have shown that the most common reason they cut themselves is to get rid of unwanted feelings—usually loathing or anger toward oneself or others. Some cut because they believe that they are bad people and deserve the self-punishment.
Self-cutting in some adolescents may be a symptom of depression, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health problems.
"We recommend that children who engage in self-cutting be evaluated by a health care professional, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist, to diagnose and treat the underlying problem—for example, issues with mental health, family, school, drug abuse, and other social problems," Marian Rahmani, M.D., assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry, said. Most treatments involve some kind of psychotherapy or counseling, to focus on coping skills and help children express their feelings in a healthier way. In some children, medication such as antidepressants may be warranted to treat the underlying condition.
"We recommend that families take advantage of the free counseling services offered in their schools or colleges. With the high prevalence of cutting in adolescents, parents should be mindful of suspicious cuts or scars, the recurrence of scratches or heavy garments being worn during seasonably warm times of the year," Mathew Nguyen, M.D., assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, said.
It's easy to explain away these things or hope that they get better on their own, but they typically worsen over time. Parents are encouraged to talk to their children and seek out help at the first sign of such self-injurious behaviors, as it is usually a sign of potentially deeper mental health issues.