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Cutting and Self-harm

Cutting and Self-harm


Self-harm is a pattern of self-destructive behavior in which a person intentionally inflicts pain on his or her body without intending to commit suicide. Research shows self-harm is widespread among teens, with nearly 25% of teen girls engaging in some form of self-harm.

Prevalence among teen boys is even more difficult to determine, since boys face more pressure not to disclose behaviors that may seem “weak” or “strange.” Even so, experts have estimated about 10% of teen boys self-harm, with overall incidence rates about 18%.

Cutting, where self-harm is inflicted with a knife or other bladed object, is especially common.

Why Do Teens Cut Themselves?

Teenagers face many challenges as they grow up. With increasing social pressures to be trendy, attractive, and athletic, they may feel there’s no way for them to measure up to their peers.

Self-harm may seem inexplicable, but it makes more sense when you realize teens who engage in this behavior are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

In a time when life may seem chaotic or even out of control, self-harm is a maladaptive coping mechanism. In other words, young people turn to self-harm to deal with emotions they find overwhelming – issues they have not dealt with successfully using healthy approaches.

Cutting may provide teens with a temporary sense of control. In fact, scientists have discovered that self-harm can offer some sufferers a desirable neurochemical response. This has led some researchers to suggest self-harm can become an addiction the sufferer is compelled to satisfy.

Although cutting is a problem among millions of teens, teens rarely encourage one another to cut. Instead, cutting seems to develop as a form of “self-experimentation” that can offer diversions from feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, or stress.

How Do You Know if a Teen Has Been Cutting?

Although cutting tends to start around age 14 or 15, there is no definitive “picture” of which teens self-harm. Teens who are outgoing and academically successful can self-harm. However, those who are socially isolated or have poor family relationships may be at greater risk.

Self-harm is most likely to begin at a time of difficulty for the teen. For example, when a teen is dealing with a death in the family, divorce of parents, or a major setback in school, he or she should be encouraged to acknowledge and communicate feelings in a healthy way.

Once a teen has cut just once, he or she is much more likely to do it again. Cutting is something teens may engage in “once in a while” when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. Unfortunately, any cutting makes a variety of long-term mental health and substance abuse issues more likely.

Likewise, cutting can cause permanent damage and may even lead to fatal injury.

Look for these signs that suggest a teen may be cutting:

  • Wears long-sleeved shirts or long pants even when weather is warm to hide cutting scars.
  • Has unexplained cuts, scratches, or burns on the legs, wrists, or arms on a regular basis.
  • Shows symptoms of depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.
  • Demonstrates difficulty controlling negative emotions (for example, angry outbursts.)

Teens can leave cutting and self-harm behind for good when they learn effective new strategies for handling life’s setbacks. When emotions no longer feel so overwhelming, the teen is able to move forward without succumbing to a temptation to self-harm.

WinGate Wilderness Therapy gives teens the chance to make a fresh start by learning a deeper understanding of their emotions – and their own power to make choices.

To learn more, contact us.


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