Depression and Self-Mutilation

Self-mutilation, better known as cutting, is a problem that affects many teenagers. The behavior is much more common among girls than boys. If you find that your teen has been harming herself, there is help available. Several new therapeutic methods exist that are designed to help teens learn new ways to cope with emotional stress.

Your reaction as a parent to the knowledge that your child is hurting herself is important. Some people are repulsed by this behavior. It is important to remember, however, that someone who is physically harming themselves is probably suffering from low self-esteem already. It is helpful to show concern, but a reaction that says that you're disgusted by the behavior will likely do more harm than good. For example, a question like "What is wrong with you?" could be replaced with "What is making you want to hurt yourself?" The second question asks for the same information but does it in a non-judgmental way.

After making sure that your child gets any medical care that may be needed, you should seek professional help for the emotional issues that are causing the self-harming behavior. Sometimes self-harming behavior is an indicator of deeper underlying emotional issues. It is this underlying problem that needs to be dealt with in order to successfully help your child. Matthew Selekman, a noted author on the subject of self-harming behavior, indicates that 76 percent of teens who receive therapy report feeling helped by it, while only fifty-nine percent felt that they gained anything from hospitalization alone (Selekman, 2002).

Tips for Parents

In the long run, one of the best things you can do for your child is to educate yourself on the subject of self-mutilation. There are many sources of information on the topic, including books, magazines, journals and websites. The more you learn about the issue the more you will know about how to help your child.

  • Seek professional help. Remember self-harming behavior can be an indicator of deeper emotional issues. Seeking professional help can ensure your teen has all the assistance they need.
  • Spend time with your teen. A chief complaint among teens who engage in self-harming behavior is that they think that they are "invisible" to their parents. Look for activities that require two-way interaction. For example, playing a board game together is a much better way to get your teen to open up to you than watching television together.
  • Encourage your teen to discuss their problems. If they are not comfortable discussing them with you, try to make sure that they have another trusted adult that they can turn to. It is not an insult to you if your child prefers to talk with someone else. They are much better off talking with another adult that you both trust than talking to friends or worse, to no one at all.





Selekman, M. D. (2002). Living on the razor's edge: Solution-oriented brief family therapy with self-harming adolescents. New York: Norton.