I have a friend at high school who told me that she’s started cutting herself. I don’t know why she’s doing it or how to help. What should I do?
You’ve raised an important question. An increasing number of teens these days are engaging in cutting or what psychologists call “self-mutilation.” It’s difficult to understand exactly what motivates a person to become involved in this kind of self-abuse, but it seems to be a response to overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression. In some ways, it’s a sign of the times in which we’re living.
Chances are that your friend is experiencing a great deal of stress, perhaps at home within the context of family relationships. It’s also possible that she experienced some kind of traumatic event in the past and is currently using cutting as a way of coping with bad memories and dark, oppressive emotions.
What can you do to help? If your friend will listen to you, urge her to get professional help right away. She might begin the process by discussing the problem with a school counsellor. Tell her that you’ll go with her to the counsellor’s office to provide support. If she refuses to go, let her know that because you care for her and don’t want to see her hurt, you will need to talk to the counsellor yourself.
This may seem like you’re “ratting” on your friend, but it’s actually the most loving thing you can do. If you have any hesitations on this point, you need to remind yourself that this could easily be a matter of life and death. Sometimes kids who engage in cutting will accidentally cut themselves too deeply and run the risk of bleeding to death. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that you let a responsible adult know what’s going on. A pastor, parent, counsellor or psychologist can provide you with valuable guidance in your efforts to get your friend the help she so desperately needs.
If you’d like to discuss this situation at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to contact Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department. They are available to speak with you Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.