January 25, 2015
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Cutting: Teens Who Hurt Themselves
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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)

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(14) Comments have been made

Well if u think about it at least we're cutting and not actually comiting suicide
Posted Sat, Jan. 10, 2015 at 12:52 pm EST
I've heard of a lot of reasons for us teens to cutt but I don't no which is right or wrong I just no that I do it...its not for attention, I get enough of that,its a lil bit depression but I don't see why I'm so depressed I HV it all but I'm still sad...that's why I cut myself.
Posted Sat, Jan. 10, 2015 at 12:46 pm EST
Having the hardest time dealing with witH this. I don't understand it and I truly feel like my girl, is doing this to hurt us.She gets every thing she wants we even offered her a car this year... We all was have to be in a good mood around her and her telling us she hates us and we say okay with a smile and A broken heart tell her that's okay hunny you can hate us We love you... it's just getting to the point were I feel I can't take it no more I really think she should live apart from us there kids out there were there family treat them really bad and there not cutting are trying to kill them self I really feel like she hates me and I don't no what to do she is 15 drinks and does drugs smoke cigarettes and is have sex .... And I still need to smile and say it's okay
Posted Fri, Jan. 2, 2015 at 10:14 pm EST
I am 11 and this article is true- I know kids who self harm and do so myself
Posted Sat, Dec. 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm EST
anonymous 54
I do feel this is a serious issue with teenagers today. I dont understand as well why doctors and therapists tell this children is common. Its not healthy and its a serious mental issue. I have a nephew who is 14 and has started cutting and saying he wants to get a gun a kill himself. He got close to being baker acted. He says kids at school tease him he is fat and is gay. His parents let him dye his hair purple. I have noticed that he always has to have his mothers full attention and goes to extreme to get it. Hes 14 years old and has to hang all over his mother like a 5 year old. This today with kids is to me due in part to parents spoiling them and letting kids have their way. I feel this behavior will lead to kids trying to kill their parents while they are sleeping. All this Just because they want attention. Sick
Posted Wed, Dec. 24, 2014 at 6:18 pm EST
Yea you people obviously don't get why we do it you just think you know why. What you know is only what some want you to think. Others are not the same at all.
Posted Sun, Dec. 21, 2014 at 3:45 pm EST
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 ...it 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 www.cuttingdepression.net/why-do-people-cut-themselves
Posted Mon, Sep. 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm EDT

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