What Is Teen Cutting and Self-Injury?
By Michael R. Hollander, PhD
January 25, 2023
Public understanding of self-injury or “cutting” in adolescents has grown in recent years. Many studies and media reports have called attention to this teen mental health concern, resulting in less confusion and ignorance.
Despite this progress, many misconceptions about self-injury remain. For instance, one widely held belief is that self-harm only affects a small percentage of the population.
In fact, recent studies have found that about 17% of adolescents and some 15% of college students in the United States have engaged in some form of self-injury on at least one occasion. Statistics show that self-injury rates are about the same in other countries.
Keep Reading To Learn
- The truth about self-harm
- How to recognize if a loved one may be engaging in self-harm
- How to successfully treat and manage self-harm
How old are individuals who engage in self-harm?
- Usually starts in early adolescence, between the ages of 11 and 14
- Usually stops by the time the person reaches their mid- to late-30s, but there are some reports of older adults engaging in self-harm
Another misconception concerns self-harm and suicide. These behaviors are different but related.
Cutting and other common forms of self-injury are mostly used for emotional regulation. Through deliberate and intentional damage to the body, those who self-harm usually do so because they feel their emotions very powerfully, or they do not have the capacity to tolerate their distress.
Simply put, injuring oneself makes that person feel better. It’s important to note, however, that while most people who harm themselves don’t intend to commit suicide, there can be a high link with suicide if the behavior goes untreated.
Ultimately, a better understanding of the true nature of self-injury can help clinicians, parents, teachers, and others who work with adolescents detect and address this teen mental health condition.
Self-harm can be treated, but adolescents who engage in the behavior must get help as soon as possible. Most teens who receive appropriate treatment can go on to lead happy, healthy lives.
Many studies have attempted to deepen our understanding of why someone would engage in self-harm.
Work by Mathew Nock, PhD, of Harvard University’s Department of Psychology, has investigated self-harm and whether individuals use it as a way to control emotions and thoughts and to communicate.