Editor’s Note: This article was written by our friend Dylan Broggio, LCSW.

Finding out that someone you love is cutting themselves is very painful, shocking, information to hear. Being armed with information and a game plan can make all the difference in getting your loved one help.

What to Do if Your Teen is Cutting

What is cutting? Cutting is when someone purposefully injures themselves, but is not trying to committing suicide. Essentially, cutting is a way to deal with pain. Teens and young adults report they cut in order to cope with or relieve emotional pain, or to “feel something” when all they feel is numb. Marks or cuts are typically kept well hidden so that they can continue this way of coping with their emotions.

14% of teens report engaging in self injurious behavior

64% of those teens are girls. (Ross and Heath, 2002)

If you suspect your teen is cutting here are some warning signs:

  • Cut, scratch, or burn marks on arms, legs, abdomen, etc. They can be anywhere on the body, but are usually in places that can be well hidden.
  • Finding sharp objects (knives, razors, safety pins/needles, tacks, broken glass) in your child’s room or belongings.
  • Your child’s friends are cutting themselves is a reason to be concerned.
  • Your teen wears long pants or shirts consistently, even on warm days, as this conceals the evidence.
  • Often insists that she be left alone and private when upset or depressed.

Here is what you can do to help your teen:

  • Depressed girlTake your child to the hospital if injury is bleeding significantly or requires stitches. Otherwise a call or trip to their pediatrician is a good idea.
  • Connect with a mental health professional who is qualified and specifically trained in treating self-injury. If they are not experienced with this, they should have no problem referring you to someone who is.
  • Listen. Listen. And listen some more. As hard as it is, hear what your child has to say.
  • Let your child know you love them, and that you are there for them.
  • Participate in your child’s treatment. Often support from family and family counseling are necessary for a successful recovery.

Parents, it is important NOT to freak out. Despite how you’re feeling, try to keep your cool. Yelling, demanding they stop, will NOT help the situation. They are not doing this to make you mad, or to be spiteful. Your child is in pain and doesn’t know how to deal with it. Take a deep breath, and express to your child that you will do what it takes to get them help.

To learn more about self injurious behavior, visit WebMD’s Mental Health Teens and Teens’ Health. These books may be helpful as well: Cutting–Understanding Self-Mutilation and When Your Child Is Cutting: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Overcome Self-Injury.

If you are a teen who is cutting, you may have come across this article looking for help. Here are some tips for you:

1. Overcome your fear and ask for help. The adults in your life who love you want you to feel safe and you aren’t right now. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor; find an adult you can trust and be as truthful as you can.

2. Be picky about your therapist. Find a counselor you feel comfortable with so that you can be honest and frank with them. That way you can begin to identify the triggers that cause you to cut, and begin working toward solutions.

3. Allow your family to support you. They will help you get through this and they will benefit, too.

4. Know that there is treatment out there that can help. You may be skeptical, but give it a try, you might be surprised!

Remember, treatment is very successful. Your teen will find better ways to deal with emotional pain and your family will benefit, too. So teens, speak up, let an adult you can trust know, so they can help you begin to find relief and feel better. And parents, with your love and support, you can be a great instrument in your child’s recovery.

Are you a parent with experience that you can share? Do you have any questions? Comments? Please let us hear from you.

Dylan Broggio, LCSW is a psychotherapist. She specializes in work with adolescents, adults, couples and families.