Addiction to smoking, alcohol or other drugs – even to sex – is often easily understood. However, there is a misunderstood addiction that is experiencing some growth among adolescents – cutting. Unlike other addictions, cutting – also known as self-harm – is often conducted behind closed doors and is not discussed openly. This is an addiction that continues to plague teens and is an unspoken concern among those who are aware of the addiction and want to help.
What many do not understand is that cutting, despite popular misconception, is not easier to give up than other addictions. Those who cut will do so for a range of reasons. Some say it is because they are able to feel something beyond the overwhelming blackness they may feel due to a range of circumstances in their lives, and others say that they self-harm because they simply do not know what else to do; in some cases, those who engage in cutting may not know how else to reach out or how to discuss what is going on from an emotional standpoint.
Regardless, the conclusion appears to be universal that cutting or self-harm is a cry for help and a sure indicator that there is something else wrong. Aaron Heise, now 17, says issues with his family and questions about his sexuality prompted him to start cutting at eight years old because he did not know what else to do. While many who cut may engage in the practice without intending suicide, there are those who do attempt it, as Heise did. He says it was not until he had a stay at the Saskatoon Dube Centre for Mental Health that he was able to hit the road to recovery; nine months ago, he finally stopped cutting with the help of a social worker.
Not everyone who cuts, though, has hit the point where they are comfortable reaching out to someone. In fact, there are those who continue to engage in self-harm in silence, unable to stop but still knowing they need help in dealing with whatever problems they may be experiencing. Like smoking, drinking or sex, cutting may be seen as an “easy” way to cope to those who do it, as it has been a familiar strategy. Many may not realize the hidden dangers, though; given cutters may use blades from items such as pencil sharpeners or other relatively innocuous, run-of-the-mill tools, the risk of infection or contamination can run high. If, as in Heise’s case, the cutter is cutting a number of times daily (Heise says he was cutting up to 100 times a day), blood loss can also be of issue, though many cutters can be cautious about their practice, as they do not want others to know. There is, after all, a certain degree of shame with any addiction, and cutting is no exception; there may also be some denial of the seriousness of the addiction, as the cutter may believe they have his or her situation well in hand.
What appears to be a universal conclusion, though, is that cutting is a cry for help. The excuses and cover stories that many invent as a way to cover the truth behind the sudden cuts, though, may cause some difficulties in recognizing that their is an issue. It is important to keep open lines of communication with those who you believe may be experiencing mental health struggles, particularly to those who are suddenly appearing with sudden fresh wounds or wearing long sleeves at unexpected times of the year. These are only two of the possible warning signs that someone you know may be a cutter; keeping an open mind and an open eye for the condition may one day save that someone’s life.
Opinion by Christina St-Jean