According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause for deaths among teenagers, but the rise of non-suicidal self-harm also poses a worrying risk to teens today.
In early 2013, a trend on Twitter, “CutForBieber” surfaced. Justin Bieber had been caught by the paparazzi smoking marijuana. Hackers thought it would be funny to start the trend, to “see how many little girls [they] could get to cut themselves.”
According to columnist Christian Piatt, who writes for the “Huffington Post,” thousands of teens cut themselves and posted it on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Though the deaths of three girls were mentioned in various tweets because of cutting too deeply, there have been no reliable confirmed reports.
It’s completely absurd to me that teens will cut themselves because a famous pop star made a bad decision in his life. Self-harm, instead of being something that is taken seriously, seems instead, to becoming an accepted part of life. Stars like Demi Lovato, Drew Barrymore, Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Manson, Lindsay Lohan, Johnny Depp, Princess Diana and Sid Vicious have all come out to say that they participated in self-harm, which in turn, has influenced many young teens that this is in fact, an acceptable behavior to do when upset.
I’ve always felt the issue of self-harm is not taken seriously, especially in middle school when most self-harm begins, but I’ve seen it at the high school level too. It’s laughed at, people who do it are made fun of, and there’s little to no discussion of self-harm in health classes or elsewhere.
“We talk about helping kids with Special School District or Webster Challenge, but we don’t talk about people with mental disorders,” said an anonymous student. “No one knows how hard it is. My self-injury was really bad. It was hurting every relationship I had, and I needed to go to rehab to get my life back.”
Self-harm includes but isn’t limited to cutting, burning, not allowing wounds to heal, hurting yourself on purpose or severely abusing drugs and alcohol. Most people who self-harm aren’t looking for attention or for a way “out.” They’re sad, lonely and depressed and feel they have no one to turn to. They try to hide their bodies from people and are ashamed at having to resort to something like this to make them feel better.
Self-harm rises from emotional issues, like depression, anger, guilt or stress, that build to the point where the self-injurers need the “release” of self-injury and make it a physical issue. In other words, it’s a coping skill, not a suicide attempt. Although most self-harm victims aren’t suicidal, if these feelings aren’t dealt with, then they could lead to more suicidal intentions.
“I feel embarrassed,” said the anonymous student. “People don’t get what I’ve been through. All they see is my scars, and they make assumptions about me. They don’t know the whole story. I don’t want to tell everyone, I just want people’s respect.”
According to healthyplace.com, 20 percent of females self-harm and 14 percent of males self-harm. Ninety percent of all self-harm victims began in their pre-teen or early teenage years, typically in middle school or early high school. Fifty percent continue self-harm until their middle to late 20s, and there are about two million cases per year in the United States alone.
What worries me the new information that self-harm is often combined with other mental health disorders, such as depression, eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, borderline personality disorder or conduct disorders. Those that self-harm will do their best to hide the behavior and because of that, can’t or won’t get the help that they need, either for the self-injuries behavior or the possibility of other issues.
“Wearing jackets and long pants, especially during the warmer months could be a sign of someone trying to hide their body because of an eating disorder or self-injury,” said social worker Anne Gibbs. “Recent statistics suggest that 20-23 percent of adolescents self-harm, which breaks down to about 270 students.”
This article isn’t to say, “Oh you’ve been diagnosed with depression! You’ll probably start showing signs of self-injury!” but more so that the self-harm is simply a symptom of one of these disorders. As with other disease, you don’t have to have every symptom to be a candidate for the disease, and self-injury could, in fact, be the problem.
If someone you know, like a friend or even someone you sit next to in class, is distributing self-destructive behavior, it’s important not to judge that person or laugh at that person. Instead, be calm, ask them what’s going on in their life that’s making them feel the need to self-harm and get them help or even just be there for them, to help them through whatever difficulties that they’re facing right now.