Over the years, the terms used for this condition have evolved, to include cutting, self-harming, self-injury, and others. I will use the terms cutting and self-harming to mean the same behaviors in your child, including any one or combination of the following:
* Making cuts or scratches in their skin
* Picking at their skin and creating sores
* Pulling their own hair (trichotillomania) or eyelashes
* Banging their head against the floor or wall
* And any other self-inflicted wounds to the body—burning, punching, and more
Cutting is NEVER an isolated condition. It is always an expression of severe emotional pain, and other behaviors are inevitably involved: depression, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and suicide, among others.
No group of people is more likely to succeed in killing themselves than the young women (most common) and young men who harm themselves. Cutting is a very serious mental health problem itself, as well as an indication of other problems—present and future.
Cutting used to be seen primarily in teenagers, but more and more children are trying it, and it tends to continue in some form into adulthood.
Cutting cannot be ignored. It must be addressed immediately and directly. Children and teenagers almost never seek help for their cutting, so it is up to you as a parent to look for the signs.
What are the signs of cutting or self-harm? Ask yourself the following questions without hesitation:
- Unexplained cuts or scratches. Do you see ANY unexplained cuts or even scratches on your child? These are often barely hidden by clothing, and it is almost never true that “the cat did it.”
- Examine. If you see even one scratch, do you examine—or have a trusted woman examine—every square inch of skin not covered by underwear?
- Change to long sleeves. Is she suddenly wearing long-sleeved shirts or blouses?
- Change in attire. Have they significantly changed the way they dress? Do they cover body parts in a new way?
- Body image issues. Does she or he have body image issues? Do they refer to themselves as fat or ugly? Does she make comments about the bodies of others?
- Poor self-esteem. Do they have poor self-esteem, saying things like, “I’m just a loser”?
- Mood changes. Have you seen recent mood changes like depression or anxiety?
- Depression. Do you know the signs of childhood depression? Or teenage depression?
- Behavioral changes. Have you seen recent out-of-control behaviors, changes in relationships, snotty attitudes, or decreasing school performance?
- Eating disorder. Do you see any signs of an eating disorder?
- Alone. Do they spend a lot of time alone?
- Fear. Have you noticed a fear of making decisions? These children and teenagers often are paralyzed with a fear of making decisions or by a generalized anxiety that they can’t even put their finger on.
- Worry. Do they worry? This is a big one, so I’ll repeat it: Does your child just have a look of worry on his or her face much of the time? There might be words, there might not.
- Perfection. Do they have to do a job—or even play a game—perfectly, because they can’t live with making mistakes?
- Social anxiety. Do you see their uneasiness being around other people? Do they avoid gatherings?
- Guilt. You might see more than usual feelings of guilt or worthlessness—perhaps expressed in the common phrase, “I can’t do anything right.”
- Pessimism. You might sense pessimism, that nothing works out for them. You might hear, “Why try?”
- Anxiety. You might hear them talk about how bad things are in the world, or in his or her own life.
- Suicide. Do they talk often about friends or peers who are depressed, anxious, or suicidal?
- Pressured. Do they feel pressured to take on greater and greater burdens, until the stress just crushes them?