Lesson 6 - Cutting and Self-Injury

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When teens feel sad, distressed, anxious, or confused, their emotions might be so extreme that they lead to acts of self-injury (also called cutting, self-mutilation, or self-harm). Most teens who inflict injury on themselves do so because they are experiencing stress and anxiety. 

Is Self-Injury a Sign of Mental Illness?

It's important to understand that a teen who is a self-injurer is not mentally ill. Self-injury is not merely a way to get attention. Even though the self-injurer may not feel the pain while inflicting the wound, he or she will feel pain afterward.

Thus, such injuries should not be brushed aside as mere manipulation, nor should the teen be made fun of for being "different." Self-injury should be taken seriously by friends and family. Trust and compassion can make a world of difference.

Is Self-Injury Like Suicide?

People who self-injure to get rid of bad feelings are not necessarily suicidal. Instead, self-injury can be quite the opposite. Instead of wanting to end their lives, those who inflict physical harm to themselves are desperate to find a way to get through the day without feeling horrible.

Though the two concepts are different, self-injury should not be brushed aside as a small problem. The very nature of self-injury is physical damage to one's body. It's important for the self-injurer to seek help at once.

Can You Prevent Self-Injury?

A person may not be able to stop injuring themselves "cold turkey." But seeing a counselor or joining a support group will likely help to ease the frequency and severity of self-injury. Intense negative feelings may cause a person to feel isolated from the rest of the world, so a social support system is important to fight self-injury.

There are effective treatment strategies for those who self-injure. The forms and causes of self-injury are unique to each individual. A psychologist or counselor will be able to tailor a treatment strategy to each person.

IMPORTANT: Seek Help Immediately for Self-Injury

If you have urges to self-injure, or have already done so, confide in someone who can help you find a better way to cope with bad feelings. That might be a parent, an older sibling, a minister, a rabbi, a guidance counselor, health care practitioner, psychologist, social worker or other trusted adult.

Do the same if you know of someone who inflicts physical harm on his or her body. Self-injury deserves immediate attention.

WebMD Medical Reference