Self-Injury & Self-Mutilation
When feelings of anger and depression become overwhelming, some teens may carve, scratch, or cut on their wrists, arms, or other parts of the body. It seems irrational to others, but when people are clinically depressed, it can seem like a way to let out the tension or pain.
Self-injury often happens when the person is feeling hopeless about the future or anxious about the past. Self-injury often also accompanies suicidal thoughts and ideation.
Do I Have A Self-Injury (Cutting) Problem?
Self-injury is a behavior people rely on to relieve difficult feelings, or to communicate emotions that may be difficult to express verbally. However, by learning to express yourself in different ways, the impulse to harm yourself will be more likely to subside. Many people begin to recover from self-injury by looking to art, writing, exercise, or other activities as alternative coping mechanisms.
Although it may be difficult at first, transferring your energy and emotions into healthier actions will have a longer lasting effect than the temporary relief that self-injury may bring.
The first step in stopping this behavior is to acknowledge that you have a problem, and you realize that you are not alone.
To help you decide if you have a problem, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you cut or burn your skin habitually?
- Do you feel compulsively drawn to cut, pierce, or burn your skin?
- Do you get "high" from the way the activity feels physically?
- Does the behavior consume your thoughts or interfere with your ability to function normally?
- Realistically, could you stop the behavior today if you wanted to?
- Do you use cutting, burning, piercing, compulsively exercising, or any other self-injurious behavior as your primary method of releasing internal tension or distress?
- Is your self-injuring behavior "ritualized," meaning it must be done in a certain way, and more frequently?
- If you do not self-injure, do you panic, get disorganized, or distressed?
Please call S.A.F.E. Alternatives at the number on the right (1-(800)-Don't Cut) or visit their Web site. They have a great book you can order called Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers as well (book review found on the right).
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Although self-injury and self-mutilation may give the recipient temporary relief, they are neither safe nor permanent solutions. It is important to get help from a health care professional as soon as possible.
It is important to find other ways to relieve the pain and learn how to express your emotions in healthier ways.
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Helping a Friend
If you think a friend or loved one may be upset and hurting themselves, you can help guide that person in finding ways to deal with his or her emotions.
- In a gentle, caring way, express your concern that he or she may be harming himself or herself.
- Explain that you may not understand all that is going on, but you know (as a friend) you cannot just stand by and watch it happen without encouraging him or her to get help.
- Have him or her agree to talk to a school counselor, teacher, family doctor, or trusted adult he or she can confide in.
- Offer to go along with the friend and help him or her talk to the adult.
- If he or she refuses to get help, then you need to talk to a trusted adult about what you can do to help.
Do not keep this information to yourself. If he or she will not get help, tell someone who has the training and knowledge to help (such as a school counselor).
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Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
National Suicide Hotline:
- or: 1-(800)-784-2433
1-(800)-DONT-CUT (note: this is not a crisis hotline).
There is currently no crisis hotline for self-injurers, but if you think you may harm yourself, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or call
For More Information:
See our Coping with Depression article.
See our book review of Bodily Harm.