Real Talk     After School     Enrichment Guide    

More tweens cutting themselves today



Recognize the signs and help your tween cope

tween cutting depression mental health


According to mental health experts, self-injury among pre-teens and teenagers is a relatively new phenomena. They say it’s reached epic proportions in just the last 15 years.

READ MORE: 6 ways a hug a day keeps illness away

The triggers

“When I’m really anxious, I cut and it’s a sigh of relief,” says a young Hudson Valley woman, who’s battled problems with anxiety. Katie, who asked that her real name be withheld, admits she began cutting herself during her college years. She says she stopped doing it, after seeking treatment. “I’ve always picked at scabs and liked seeing the blood,” she says. “When I feel out of body and not connected to myself—I cut—and it draws me back. I calm down. Cutters are people who like to be in control.”

Cutting without a knife

According to experts, the methods and tools vary. A razor blade, a piece of broken glass or even a paper clip can be used to inflict superficial cuts or much deeper wounds requiring hospitalization. To avoid discovery the injuries are often inflicted on areas of the body that are normally hidden by clothing, such as the torso, forearms or inner thighs. It’s not unusual for self-harming girls to also pick at scabs, scratch or burn themselves. Some have even engaged in head banging or breaking bones, but experts say those cases are very rare.

An epidemic

“It’s become a real common epidemic at this point among middle school, high school and college students,” says Sandy Essington, counseling center supervisor of the Astor Counseling Center in Red Hook. “What we see the most are adolescents from 12 to 16.”

READ MORE: Signs of childhood depression

It’s estimated that between two and three million people or one percent of the total U.S. population exhibit some form of self-abusive behavior, including eating disorders. Experts believe one in every 200 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 cut themselves regularly. As for Katie, she says it was easy for her to learn about cutting. “I read about it,” she says, “people on the internet talk about it. It’s just something kids do.”

A new addiction

“Cutting is not a suicidal act, but more of a release. One thing it does is release endorphins,” says Essington. “It releases tensions. Patients have told me that seeing the blood makes them feel real.”

Dr. Paul Schwartz is a professor of psychology at Mt. St. Mary’s College. He says cutting has been compared to drug use, since both practices can become addictive. “It’s not only a form of control, in some respects it’s not unlike drug taking,” he says. “Why do people take drugs? Because they work; for many teens cutting works.”

Why girls and not boys

According to Schwartz, girls tend to internalize their pain. They complain of feeling numbed by it. “When an adolescent is severely depressed, they experience Anhedonia; the inability to feel,” says Schwartz, “and the sense of pain that comes with cutting allows the adolescent to feel something.” Essington says many of the teenage girls she sees are dealing with an inordinate amount of stress.

READ MORE: Tips for raising kids with a healthy body image

Some possible causes

“There’s a lot of drama among teenage girls.” Essington says, “The ongoing drama of teenage life may sound trivial, but it should be taken seriously.”

Essington points out that cell phone bullying; naked pictures sent to a boyfriend; rumors about relationships or sexual encounters; or just petty meanness can be humiliating and create the environment for serious depression.

“Cutting is a warning sign,” she says. “If things don’t change, it could get worse. It’s also a sign that something is going on like abuse or bullying.”

Treatments

In many cases, parents are the last to find out that their teen is harming herself. The discovery can initially be made by friends, the school nurse, teachers or school administrators.Treatment usually involves therapy. It involves helping the teens understand why they injure themselves and helping them develop skills to better cope with their personal issues. depending on the diagnosis, treatment can also involve medication.

For parents, what’s important, is how they react to the shock of learning that their child is cutting. Mary Waldon, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), is a therapist in Illinois who works with self-harming teens has just released a self-help DVD on the subject. She has advice for parents. “Don’t overreact,” she says. “It’s a tough time to be a girl. It’s not up to a parent to determine if it’s self harm or a suicide attempt. The child needs to be evaluated by a trained therapist.”

In Katie’s case, the therapy was successful. She explains what she learned. “Use your words. Don’t take things out on yourself.”

READ MORE: Dr. Paul Schwartz discusses treating childhood depression


Coping with cutting:
How parents should respond

  • Consider how you say it. Experts say how a parent reacts to the news about their child cutting is more important than what is actually said. Your teen needs to know that you care and are not being judgmental.
  • Love and encouragement. Your teen needs to know she has your support and encouragement. Chances are she may not want to talk about her injuries at first and may be in denial.
  • Treatment. There are many different treatments available for cutting. In many cases, the self-harming teen is evaluated and undergoes family therapy.
  • Be patient. If cutting has become a habit for your teen, it will take time to change her behavior. Sometimes, there are setbacks and the teen may go back to harming herself. Through it all, she will need to know she has your support as she tries to overcome depression.
Learn as much as you can about cutting. It’s often said that “knowledge is power.” In seeking help for your child, this saying couldn’t be truer.

Robert Lachman is an award-winning journalist who lives in Red Hook. He has worked for many local newspapers. He’s also a singer-songwriter, who performs in the area.



More Real Talk


  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams supports young adults' mental health

    The athlete teams up with national "Seize the Awkward" Campaign

    In Collaboration with the Ad Council, AFSP, The Jed Foundation, Caleb Cares Foundation & USC, a new student-produced Public Service Advertisement encourages young adults to check in on their friends. read more »
  • "I Have The Right To" launches nationwide pledge

    Offering support to students and survivors of sexual assault

    In an exciting announcement and a first for the celebrated organization, I Have The Right To launches a nationwide pledge to ensure all students receive an education free from sexual assault. read more »
  • Proper medication use can help tobacco users overcome nicotine addiction

    The New York State Smokers' Quitline can help you kick the habit

    The New York State Smokers' Quitline (Quitline) reminds New York State residents that cigarettes and vape products are highly addictive. read more »
  • Weeklong FAIR Film Festival 2022

    The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) Hosts a Film Screening Plus Q&A

    The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) will kick off the FAIR Film Festival 2022 with an in-person screening of the documentary film I Am A Victor plus a selection of short films on Sunday, June 12 at 1:00pm EDT at Caveat on the lower east side in Manhattan. read more »
  • Resources for LGBTQ youth

    Positive online places for your child

    LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied and harm themselves because of it. read more »
  • How to prevent cyberbullying with technology

    Who is at risk and what you can do

    Cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent among children and teens, as young people now spend more time on phones, computers and digital devices. About 6 in 10 teens have been bullied or harassed online, according to Pew Research Center. read more »
  • Teenage Period Cramps

    How much pain alerts to medical conditions?

    More often than not prevailing period stigma holds adolescents back from expressing concerns about severe menstrual pains. Experts say that debilitating cramps are not normal and might be caused by underlying medical problems like endometriosis. read more »
  • Mother Shares Her Journey with Heroin-Addicted Daughter

    Read the gripping new book about this family

    September is National Recovery Month and one mom has shared her journey with her daughter struggling with addiction. read more »
  • Learn How to Help Your Struggling Adolescents Navigate Change and Overcome Anxiety

    Parenting expert Erica Komisar has a new book that can assist you

    Adolescence is a notoriously complicated time for kids as well as their parents. Plus, the epidemic of mental health disorders in young people has made parenting today even more challenging. But it’s not too late. Parents of adolescents can still have a profound impact on the health and well-being of their children. read more »
  • How to help high-achieving students manage stress

    Tips and insight for parents

    School administrators at Howard County Public Schools (HCPS) in Maryland were surprised to learn that high-achieving students wanted to get rid of class rank—a measure of student success that weighs higher-level classes differently when calculating grade point average. The class ranking system created an unnecessary burden, students said, and discouraged them from taking the classes they really wanted. read more »