The Basics: Self-Injury (Cutting)
Cutting is the act of intentionally inflicting harm on oneself, usually without suicidal intent. While the term is often used broadly, cutting is really only one form of what is known as “self-injurious behavior” or “non-suicidal self-injury.” Other types of self-injury include scratching, burning, ripping or pulling skin or hair, swallowing toxic substances, self-bruising, and breaking bones. While cutting may occur on any part of the body, it is most common on the hands, wrists, stomach, and thighs. Tattoos and body piercing are not typically considered self-injurious behavior unless undertaken with the intention of causing harm.
Not everyone who cuts does so for the same reasons. Some people report overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or emotional numbness to be common triggers. Other reasons include a need to feel in control, relieve stress, create visible and treatable wounds, purify one’s body, reenact a trauma in an attempt to resolve it, or shield others from one’s emotional pain. Although not always true, cutting is frequently linked to childhood abuse (especially sexual abuse), depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and substance abuse problems. Regardless of the cause, self-injury may best be understood as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
You Should Know
- Cutting often begins between the ages of 12 and 15, but studies suggest that 30-40% of college students who cut begin at 17 years or older.
- Because cutting often occurs in private, it is difficult to gauge how commonly cutting occurs. It is estimated that cutting occurs in anywhere from 4% to 38% of the population.
- An estimated 25% to 40% of people who cut also have an eating disorder.
- Over 1/3 of the respondents in a college study who reported cutting indicated that no one knew about the behavior.
- Studies have shown that individuals with a history of cutting are over 9 times more likely to report suicide attempts and nearly six times more likely to report having a suicide plan.
What to Watch For
- Unexplained burns, cuts, bruising, scars, healing or healed wounds, or similar markings on the skin
- Implausible stories which may explain one, but not all, physical injuries
- Dressing inappropriately for the season (e.g., consistently wearing long sleeves or pants in summer)
- Constant use of wristbands, large watchbands, or large bracelets
- Frequent bandages or other methods of covering wounds (e.g., make-up)
- Odd/unexplainable paraphernalia (e.g., razor blades)
- Unwillingness to participate in activities that require less body coverage (e.g., swimming)
Sources used in this article: Journal of Pediatric Nursing
- Connecting Your Child with Mental Health Resources on Campus
- Contact Information Every Parent Should Know
- Exploring Campus Mental Health Support Systems
- Finding the Right Off-Campus Mental Health Professional
- Four Things Every Parent Must Know About Emotional Health
- If Your Child is Worried About a Friend
- Medical Leaves of Absence
- Mental Health Conditions: Privacy and Telling Others
- Preventing Suicide: Warning Signs and How to Respond
- Suicide and College Students
- The Basics: Alcohol and Drug Dependence and Abuse
- The Basics: Anxiety Disorders
- The Basics: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- The Basics: Bipolar Disorder
- The Basics: Depression
- The Basics: Eating Disorders
- The Basics: Schizophrenia
- The Basics: Self-Injury (Cutting)
- The Proactive Parent
- Three Important Guidelines for Transitioning with a Diagnosed Condition
- Transferring Treatment to College
- Types of Mental Health Professionals
- What are Mental Health Conditions?
- What to Do When Your Student is Struggling
- Who Will Struggle with Mental Illness?