Crazy...weird...or crying for help:
Cutting for Control
Mayra Cervantes, Alvaro Martinez
[Editor’s Note: Due to the sensitive nature of this
article, the character described below is not real,
but a composite character of the type of teen that is
affected by this syndrome.]
Carla M. feels lost in this world since her family
life fell apart. “I wanted to kill myself, but I
couldn’t because I’m needed in this world,” she said.
To help control her problems, Carla cuts herself on
her legs and hands. For her, it gives her a sense of
being calm and in control. She got the idea to cut
herself from watching TV. Her friend, John, got the
idea to injure himself from listening to a song he
heard on the radio. Carla and John are not alone in
this situation. In fact, studies show that many more
teens are turning to self-mutilation to escape from
painful emotions that they cannot express.
There’s really no obvious reason for why teens cut
themselves. A. Solis, M.D., the behavioral health
specialist at the Salud Para La Gente Clinic in
Watsonville, works with a lot of teens who self-
mutilate and he believes that they are crying out for
help. “Self-mutilation doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it
doesn’t mean you’re weird, it just means you need some
help and help can be obtained."
According to Solis, self-mutilation is not a disease,
but it is a mood problem, like depression, mood
swings, or anger control. Cheyenne McClain, peer
counselor at Youth Services in Santa Cruz said, “Self-
mutilation is a complex issue. It’s an outlet. Some
people write in journals, others cut themselves.”
The myths about self-mutilation are that the person
who engages in cutting is trying to commit suicide but
that’s not the case. They are trying to relieve
Self-injury and self-mutilation are not the same. The
difference between them is that self-injury can
sometimes be a suicide attempt, and it is sometimes
overt, open, or public. Self-mutilation is covert, and
people hide it and may or may not be found out. Self-
mutilation is found in teens and college students who
are isolated psychologically and who can’t find other
ways to escape.
The most common way of self-mutilation is cutting.
People who cut are usually depressed or victims of
abuse. They usually cut themselves on their legs,
arms, or hands. Cutting gives them a sense of relief
and comfort. Susan Dobie of Oregon State University
reports in Access to Health that upper-middle class
young girls with eating disorders are the largest
group being treated for this problem. Dobie says that
there are a lot of guys and minorities that are
cutting themselves and not getting help, so it doesn’t
get reported. People of all ages cut themselves, but
the biggest groups are teens and college students.
Solis said that parents are often the ones that play a
role in the cause to why teens express their anger by
hurting themselves. “Parents sometimes prohibit teens
in displaying anger,” he said. “This is one of the
main reasons why they do it.” This doesn’t mean that
parents are the only ones that cause this: friends,
boyfriends, enemies, school, and even jobs can also be
stress factors that lead to self-mutilation.
Here in Watsonville there are a lot of cases of self-
mutilation like many communities. It is not an
epidemic, but it is a problem and it’s hard to
estimate how many kids are doing it because they are
hiding their scars with long-sleeved shirts and
bandaids. Also, self-mutilation isn’t talked about
very much in our community because most people tend to
focus more on obvious issues, such as car accidents
and violent behavior.
The bottom line is that self-mutilation is a big
problem here in our community and we all need to
notice that, we need to give teens all our support and
help and we need to let them know that we are here for
them when they need our help.
Solis deals with a lot of teens and says there are
people out there to help them overcome this
problem. “If you happen to know somebody who does self-
mutilation you need to let them know that help is out
there,” he said “Every county has a health service
program and they can talk to a school counselor.”
In Watsonville, teens can get help from Catholic
Charities “Salud Para La Gente” or Youth Services.
They can also get help from any medical clinic with a
“Self mutilation is possible to overcome,” McClain
said. “It just needs to be treated like an addiction.”
To find out more about self-mutilation and how you can
help a friend, go to www.self abuse.com.