More Stories

Youth Life!

Crazy...weird...or crying for help:
Cutting for Control
Author: 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