How Widespread is Cutting?
Statistics on teen cutting are hard to come by because so few studies have been done on the subject.
Broad estimates are that about one percent of the total U.S. population, or between 2 and 3 million people, exhibit some type of self-abusive behavior. But that number includes those with eating disorders like anorexia, as well as those who self injure. (1)
A 2002 study published in the British Medical Journal estimated that 13 percent of British 15- and 16-year-olds purposely injure themselves. (2)
In the U.S., it's estimated that one in every 200 girls between 13 and 19 years old, or one-half of one percent, cut themselves regularly. Those who cut comprise about 70 percent of teen girls who self injure.
Two of the most alarming facts about teen cutting are these:
- the number of cases is on the rise, and
- without treatment, many who begin cutting themselves as teens will continue the behavior well into their adult years.
Treatment visits for teens who self injure have doubled over the past three years. And those numbers are expected to grow as life becomes more complex for teenagers. Directors at self-injury treatment programs refer to this growth trend as an epidemic that reaches even into middle schools.
The profile of a typical self-injurer looks like this. She's female in her mid-20's to early 30s, and has been cutting herself since her teens. She's intelligent , middle or upper-middle class, and well educated. She also comes from a home where she was physically and/or sexually abused and has at least one alcoholic parent. (3)
What Should I Do if My Teen is Cutting?
Parents who discover their child is cutting typically are shocked and immediately blame themselves for failing as a parent. Therapists say that parental self-blame is NOT helpful.
Remember, cutting is a behavioral sign of a deeper underlying problem. The goal should not be to get your child to "stop cutting," but to treat the deeper problem so your teen develops more mature coping skills and no longer feels the need to self-injure.
Here are some tips for dealing with this serious issue.
- React with anger.
- Go into denial about the problem.
- Assume this is a "phase" your teen will outgrow.
- Say "What did I do wrong as a mother (father) for you to do this to yourself."
- Ask "Why are you doing this to yourself?"
- Try to hide sharp objects. It's an ineffective deterrent. If your child wants to self-injure, she'll find a way.
- Admit you and your child need help.
- Take the problem very seriously. This is not just attention-seeking behavior.
- Be completely supportive.
- Immediately seek treatment for your child.
If you suspect your teen is cutting, talk to your family physician or your local public health department to find a mental health treatment program that can help.
Parents are cautioned to understand that treatment probably won't simply be a matter of medication and/or a few visits with a therapist. Treatment often includes medication combined with individual and family therapy over a sustained period of time.
Don't assume that your child is "okay" once he's in treatment and making progress. As with treatment for any habitual behavior, setbacks are not uncommon. Some teens report cutting episodes even after a year of therapy, although episodes typically become less and less frequent the longer a teen is in treatment.
If You're a Teen Cutter
- Tell somebody - a sibling, a friend, a parent or relative, anyone you can talk to. Overcoming your shame and admitting your problem is often the hardest part of getting help.
- Identify what triggers your cutting behavior. This can be difficult to do on your own. You'll probably need a mental health counselor to help you.
- Ask for help. Go to your parents, a medical professional, a school counselor, or any adult you trust and tell them you want to stop cutting. If the person you approach downplays your cutting, go ask another adult for help.
- Stay with it. Breaking your cutting habit will not be easy. But with treatment, teens who cut themselves can and do successfully learn more healthy way to deal with stress ands negative emotions. (4)
Cutting Stats and Treatment Sources:
- SAFE: Self Abuse Finally Ends [online]
- Stepfamily Life [online]
- Discovery Health [online]
- Teens Health [online]