Earlier this year, a campaign called “Cut for Bieber” hit the social media airwaves like crazy. Fans of the pop star, rallied together on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr (to name a few), sharing pictures of their blades and cut up wrists in an effort to force Justin Bieber to stop smoking pot. Shocking isn’t it? Some call it a hoax, others call it a crazy fad, but most of us call it a very serious issue plaguing our teens.
Cutting affects many teens and preteens — even beyond those who self-injure. Many teens worry about a friend who cuts or face pressure from peers to try cutting as a daring thing to do. For most, cutting, is an attempt to interrupt strong emotions and pressures that seem impossible to tolerate. It can be related to broader emotional issues that need attention. Most of the time, cutting is not a suicide attempt.
In many cases, cutting — and the emotions that go along with it — is something teens struggle with alone. But because of growing awareness, more teens can get the assistance they need.
Myths and facts about cutting and self-harm (Courtesy of Helpguide.org)
Because cutting and other means of self-harm tend to be taboo subjects, the people around you—and possibly even you—may harbor serious misconceptions about your motivations and state of mind. Don’t let these myths get in the way of getting help or helping someone you care about.
Myth: People who cut and self-injure are trying to get attention.
Fact: The painful truth is that people who self-harm generally do so in secret. They aren’t trying to manipulate others or draw attention to themselves. In fact, shame and fear can make it very difficult to come forward and ask for help.
Myth: People who self-injure are crazy and/or dangerous.
Fact: It is true that many people who self-harm suffer from anxiety, depression, or a previous trauma—just like millions of others in the general population. Self-injury is how they cope. Slapping them with a “crazy” or “dangerous” label isn’t accurate or helpful.
Myth: People who self-injure want to die.
Fact: Self-injurers usually do not want to die. When they self-harm, they are not trying to kill themselves—they are trying to cope with their pain. In fact, self-injury may be a way of helping themselves go on living. However, in the long-term, people who self-injure have a much higher risk of suicide, which is why it’s so important to seek help.
Myth: If the wounds aren’t bad, it’s not that serious.
Fact: The severity of a person’s wounds has very little to do with how much he or she may be suffering. Don’t assume that because the wounds or injuries are minor, there’s nothing to worry about.
Did you know:
- It is estimated that 1 in 200 girls have cut themselves.
- Each year one in five females and one in seven males engage in self-injury, which includes cutting, burning, interfering with wound healing, punching or hitting objects or oneself, inserting objects into the skin, intentionally bruising or breaking one’s bones, and certain forms of hair pulling.
- 13% of 15 to 16-year-olds have deliberately harmed themselves.
- 1% of the US population engages in self abusive behavior.
- For 3 million Americans cutting is a serious problem. (However, this estimate could be quite low due to many people concealing these behaviors.)
- Cutting has become the new anorexia among today’s teens.
- Most parents don’t have a clue that their teenager is cutting.
- Cutting occurs most often with girls/women between the ages of 13 and 30.
- Cutting usually starts when the cutter is between 10 and 16 years old.
What exactly is cutting?
Cutting is a form of self-injury, involving the use of a sharp object, such as a knife or razor blade, to slice parts of the body. The most common body parts that are cut include the arms, legs, wrists, and torso because these areas are relatively easy to hide with clothing. Often, these behaviors are seen among adolescents and are a way of coping with problems. For many, these behaviors are a way of putting physical pain to emotional pain. After cutting, the individual often feels better, but only for a while. Often the emotional pain returns because the individual never properly acknowledged and worked through the feelings. Some feelings associated with cutting behaviors include sadness, guilt, emptiness, and self-hatred, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Scars, such as from burns or cuts
- Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises or other wounds
- Keeping sharp objects on hand
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
- Spending a great deal of time alone
- Pervasive difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
- Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness
What Parents Can Do
If your teen is cutting, there ways to help. By coping with your own feelings, learning about cutting, finding professional help, and just being there to love and believe in your teen, you’ll provide the calm, steady support that he or she needs. It can hurt to think that your child might experience any of these feelings. As difficult as it is, try to keep in mind that exploring what pressures prompt your teen to self-injure is a necessary step toward healing.
- Accept your own emotions. If you know or suspect that your teen is cutting, it’s natural to feel a whole range of emotions. You might feel shocked, angry, sad, disappointed, confused, or scared. You might feel hurt that your teen didn’t come to you for help or feel guilty that you didn’t know about it. All of these emotions are completely understandable. But it’s not your fault, and it’s not your teen’s fault.
- Take time to identify your own feelings and find a way to express them. This might mean having a good cry, talking with a friend, or going for a walk to let off steam or quietly reflect. If you feel overwhelmed, talking with a therapist can help you sort things through and gain some perspective so that you can provide the support your teen needs.
- Learn all you can about cutting. Find out all you can about cutting, why teens do it, and what can help them stop. Some teens cut because of peer pressure — and once they start, they can’t easily stop. Other teens feel pressure to be perfect and struggle to accept failures or mistakes. And still others contend with powerful moods like anger, sadness, worthlessness, and despair that feel hard to control or too heavy to bear. Cutting is sometimes the result of trauma and painful experiences that no one knows about.
What can you do to get help from self-harm or cutting?
- The first step is to confide in someone whom you trust. This can be a big relief in that it allows you to talk about something that you tried very hard to hide. This person can be a teacher, counselor, relative, religious leader, or friend. Tips for talking about cutting include focusing on your feelings, communicating in a way that makes you feel comfortable, and giving your confidant time to process the information you’ve told them.
- Second, figure out why you cut. Learn to manage your feelings and emotions, find what triggers you to cut, and get in touch with your feelings.
- The last and possibly most important step to recovery is to identify new ways to cope. This can include ways to express emotions (paint, draw, write), ways to calm and soothe yourself (take a hot bath, get a massage, pet or cuddle with a dog or cat), ways to feel less disconnected and numb (call a friend, go online to a self-help website, chat room, or message board, take a cold shower), or ways to release tension and anger (exercise, squeeze a stress ball, make some noise). Most importantly, remember that there is professional treatment for self-harm and cutting. Talking with a therapist can help you overcome these negative behaviors and develop new coping techniques.