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Written by Paget Hetherington
on December 10, 2020

As parents and educators look for ways to support students who are experiencing mental health struggles, many wonder how to approach concerns of self-harm and cutting. We sat down for a conversation with Dr. Lisa Strohman, psychologist and founder of Digital Citizen Academy, to learn more about why students struggle with cutting and how parents and educators can support them.

What Is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is a deliberate act with the intention to harm oneself physically in a non-fatal way. The individual typically is aware of the risk of death associated with the act of physical harm but doesn’t always experience suicidal ideation or plans. There are many different ways individuals self-harm, including cutting, burning, hair and skin picking, bulimia, anorexia, and the consumption of toxic substances. Self-harm is increasingly common in adolescents, with approximately 15% of teens reporting some form of self-injury.

Cutting is one of the more common forms of self-harm, with anywhere between 70–90% of teens who engage in acts of self-harm doing so through skin cutting. Those who cut use sharp objects such as needles, knives, razor blades, and even student IDs to cut or scratch their skin to the point of bleeding. Cutting is a destructive habit that often results in extreme scarring, so teens will often cut in places that can be easily hidden.

Why Does Cutting Happen?
There are many reasons why an individual may feel compelled to cut themselves. In response to stressful situations and emotions, cutting can provide a distorted sense of relief from pent-up feelings. Cutting can also be viewed as an outlet of expression, where individuals can physically express intense feelings like depression, rejection, anger, and more. Some individuals feel compelled to cut themselves out of curiosity after hearing about using cutting as a coping mechanism from peers or social media. Cutting can be triggered by experiences as well, such as abuse, self-esteem issues, and excessive pressure or stress.

One of the first steps in supporting an adolescent who is struggling with cutting is acknowledging the issue without judgment. It’s important to let students know you care and establish an open dialogue to destigmatize what students are experiencing. Connecting a student to a support group can be a good way to help them feel less alone in their experience, and suggesting professional treatment can help students get to the root of their struggles with cutting.

How Gaggle Can Help
Gaggle Safety Management works 24/7/365 to flag concerning content—including references to cutting and self-harm—in order to help identify students who may be struggling with or considering self-harm. In severe situations, Gaggle has a rapid response and immediately notifies district-appointed contacts, even after business hours or during school breaks.

To learn more about this topic, be sure to watch our recent webinar. You can find additional information about self-harm, its effects, treatment options, and more from Crisis Text Line and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you’d like to explore other topics related to student wellness, check out the previous recordings from our webinar series: Eating Disorders, Incels, and Anxiety.

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