December 21, 2014
Add to Google
Cutting: Teens Who Hurt Themselves
email a friend print

Offering teens a couple sessions of therapy can go a long way to nipping mental health problems in the bud. More >

Follow us on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook. Receive updates via E-mail and SMS:

Would you like to ask our staff a question? >
Join the discussion and leave a comment on this article >

Cutting: Teens Who Hurt Themselves


The medical community calls it "non-suicidal self-injury" (NSSI); the kids call it "cutting." By either label, it is the act of deliberately causing injury to one's body and while it is not performed with conscious suicide intent, it can have a more serious outcome than anticipated.

Some self-harmers, usually girls, expressed a need to hurt themselves because of shame, or disgust. When this was the motivation, their negative emotions were worsened by the self-harming episode. Boys were also motivated by boredom perceiving the self-harm activity as fun, or desiring to win membership in a peer group.

A recent article shed some light on this surprisingly common behavior and underscored the need for parents, physicians, and those who work with teens and young adults to know how to respond when they see it.(1)

Who Does It?

Self-harm behaviors usually begin in adolescence and these teens. It is more common in girls than boys. The prevalence of NSSI is 12-37.2 % in US high school students and 12-20% of late adolescent/young adults. NSSI is seen from ages 10-25, although more typically starts between 11-15 year olds.(2) Cutting may be a single episode or a chronic pattern, but self-harmers think of themselves as "one who self-injures." About a quarter of the adolescents and young adults who report NSSI have only done it once. Among those who repeat the injury, 40% stop within a year and almost 80% start within five years of starting.(3) Self-harmers may have psychiatric diagnoses including depression or anxiety, but may also occur independently of other mental health conditions.

Self-injury tends to spread within teenage populations. The Internet and media can act to facilitate this. As with other risky adolescent behaviors, media attention can show NSSI in a falsely normalized and romanticized light, which tends to reinforce such actions.

What Do They Do?

The authors of the recent study in the Public Library of Science Medicine describe "common" NSSI(4) as self-injury that is performed compulsively, episodically, and repetitively. Injuries include scratching, cutting, punching, banging oneself with an object capable of causing injury, biting, ripping, burning or tearing skin, and falling, jumping and bone breaking. Girls are more likely to cut themselves, while boys are more likely to hit bite or punch themselves. Girls are more likely to self-harm as a solitary activity, while boys may perform acts alone, or in groups.

Boys may engage in self-harm in the context of a peer challenge, a test of will, strength, endurance, or "masculinity."(5)

Why Do They Do It?

There are many possible reasons why teens may engage in cutting or NSSI and explanations have ranged from psychological to social to biological. NSSI may be an attempt to decrease psychological pain and distress by using self-injury to distract oneself. Self-harmers are more likely to have thought about or performed suicidal acts.(5) Unlike a suicide attempt, self-injury is most commonly used to temporarily diminish distress, rather than escape stress by ending one's life.

Some researchers believe that acts of NSSI should be seen as signals that an individual is feeling considerable stress and that these feelings may in fact lead to consideration of suicide if they don't obtain some relief.(1) When self- injurious acts are performed frequently and the methods of self-injury are of the type to cause severe tissue damage, the risk of severe mental health problems and future behaviors related to suicide are increased.(1)

A study that explored the motivations of self-harmers found they showed more emotional distress, more antisocial behavior, difficulty with anger, and poorer self-esteem than non-self harming peers.(5) Study participants endorsed a desire to externalize their inner pain; they wanted to send a message about inner pain, or to move the pain from their heart. After the episode they felt relief.

Some self-harmers, usually girls, expressed a need to hurt themselves because of shame, or disgust. When this was the motivation, their negative emotions were worsened by the self-harming episode. Boys were also motivated by boredom perceiving the self-harm activity as fun, or desiring to win membership in a peer group.(5)

Studies have shown that while a significant proportion of adolescents harm themselves intentionally, an even larger proportion think about hurting themselves and have self-destructive thoughts. The authors concluded, based on their view of self-harm as a maladaptive effort to relieve stress, that adolescents need both recognition of their emotional distress and attention to safer, and more effective coping skills.(5)

 1 2 | Next > 


Add Comment
NOTE: We regret that we cannot answer personal medical questions.



Characters remaining:

Readers Comments
(8) Comments have been made

Well im only 14 years old and this is truly right.
Posted Fri, Nov. 14, 2014 at 7:26 pm EST
To truly have the right to say something about people who self harm, you have to understand them and not be judgemental about it, because if you say something rude or mean about it, it will make them feel worse and more ashamed of themselves. So seriously, just deal with yourself.
Posted Tue, Oct. 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm EDT
Why would you not take your child to a dr for this that what my parents did for me
Posted Tue, Oct. 21, 2014 at 4:18 am EDT
Why the hell is this just excepted . As if it an ok outlet for kids to handle stress. This is not normal ...and when someone takes their child to get professional help and is told it's very common ....or your child is asked when you do cut what are some ways you could talk to mom....this is so messed up . Professional therapist should not be telling a child it's common thing to cut and saying when you do cut again ....they should be saying this is not healthy is not a normal way to deal with pain ....and this can't continue .
Posted Tue, Oct. 7, 2014 at 11:28 pm EDT
Who wrote this article
Posted Tue, Sep. 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm EDT
All that s*** about the reasons do it, is PURE BULL S***!!!! Just saying, good day to you sirs. (tips hat)
Posted Wed, Jul. 9, 2014 at 3:56 am EDT
it all just starts at just a difficult time then after the first time it feels nice so there's no reason to stop but there are some side effects like dizziness and getting sick that's all I had.
Posted Tue, Feb. 25, 2014 at 8:15 pm EST
Michael Silver
Thank you for sharing this most informative article. I, too share similar subjects on our website: Cutting Depression. All the best, Michael Silver
Posted Mon, Sep. 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm EDT

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.

Copyright 2014 interMDnet Corporation. All rights reserved.
About Us | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | System Requirements