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Teen Self-Injury, Self-Mutilation and Cutting

Self-injury, also known as self-abuse, self-harm, self-mutilation or cutting is on the rise among teens. In this article we will review statistics on teen self injury, reasons teens give for self-mutilation, warning signs of cutting, and what to do about self-injury.


Self-injury is a negative way of dealing with strong emotions, and can include cutting, scratching, burning, mutilating or hitting oneself, or anything else that causes bodily harm.

According to CNN.com, one in five teens say they have purposely injured themselves at some time. Some teens see self-injury as trendy, but to parents and others it can be frightening and frustrating. It is most common in the adolescent and teenage years and affects people from both sexes and all backgrounds, though the National Mental Health Association and S.A.F.E. Alternatives report that those who seek help for self-injury are more likely to be teenage girls from middle or upper class backgrounds.

Teen self-injury, self-mutilation or cutting can be overcome, but the problems causing a teen to self-injure or self-mutilate, such as cutting, need to be resolved and the teen must learn healthier ways to deal with emotions. Some of the reasons teens give for self-injuring or self mutilating include:

  • Not knowing how to deal with stress 
  • An unresolved history of abuse 
  • Low self esteem 
  • Feelings of loneliness or fear 
  • A need to feel in control 
  • Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder 
  • Wanting to get the attention of people who can help them 
  • Peer pressure/curiosity

Teen self-injury or self-mutilation is dangerous, especially cutting, leaving physical and emotional scars and sometimes leading to serious injury or death. Though teen self-injury or self-mutilation is not a suicide attempt, some teens who self-injure or self-mutilate also attempt suicide, and many engage in other risky behaviors such as drinking and drug use, or suffer from eating disorders associated with troubled teens. Because teens who self-injure or self-mutilate often do not know how to ask for help, it is important to watch for some of these signs that a teen may be harming him or herself, or is at risk for doing so:

  • Unexplained injuries, such as cuts, scratches, burns, bruises, etc.
  • Making excuses for injuries or scars if they are discovered 
  • Acting embarrassed or ashamed about injuries 
  • Wearing long sleeves even in hot weather 
  • Secretiveness or withdrawal 
  • Having trouble dealing with emotions 
  • Spending time with people who self-injure, especially on the internet
  • A history of eating disorders 
  • Having trouble functioning at work, school, and in relationships 
  • Low self esteem

Self-injury and self-mutilation is often addictive, and can become increasingly serious. It is possible for a teen to stop, but it usually requires help. If you think your teen or someone you know is self-injuring or self-mutilating such as cutting themselves, here are some things you can do

  • Talk to your teen calmly and directly; do not lecture, judge, or get angry 
  • Do not try to force your teen to stop?he or she needs to make that change on his or her own 
  • Be supportive by listening and letting your teen know that he or she is not a bad person and can find better ways to deal with his or her emotions 
  • Seek help from a doctor or counselor who is comfortable helping your teen work through the healing process 
  • Encourage your teen to find positive activities to relax or deal with emotions, such as playing an instrument, journal writing, sports, dancing, reading, exercise, etc. 
  • Encourage your teen to avoid people, music, and internet sites that glorify self-injury, and to seek friends who share his or her positive interests 
  • Educate yourself about self-injury and do not hesitate to talk to someone yourself if you are feeling angry, guilty, depressed, or overwhelmed

Resources: If your teen or someone you know is feeling suicidal or has a serious injury, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. For more information about teen self-injury such as cutting and how to get help, go to the web site of The Center for Young Women's Health at http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/si.html, or call S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self Abuse Finally Ends) at 1-800-DONTCUT (800-366-8288).


  1. The Center for Young Women's Health: Children's Hospital Boston [online]
  2. S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self Abuse Finally Ends) [online]
  3. National Mental Health Association [online]
  4. CNN.com [online]
  5. WebMD/CBS news, "Cutting: Parents' Nightmare" [online] TeensHealth: Cutting (Nemours Foundation) [online]
  6. Focus Adolescent Services: Self-Injury [online]
  7. Teen Health Centre [online]

Related Article: Teen Eating Disorders >>

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